Best Laid Plans
Last Thursday, a wooden formwork, or cast, for a concrete wall inside one of *Manhattan’s many new hotels broke. This sent a cascade of concrete into one of the city’s grand not-quite-new-but-not-old hotels, Le Parker Meridien. The construction accident on West 56th Street put quite a damper on things inside the hotel where, as the Post points out, rooms cost $600 per night and, The Times adds,a hot chocolate is $6 at the Knave cafe, where the foot-thick flood of liquid stone settled, and began to harden.
Fortunately no one was injured in the accident. “One second, I’m sitting there having a cappuccino and the next moment, we are running for our lives,” Bernard Gershon, a West Sider who had met a friend for coffee, told the Post. Had something bad befallen the cafe guests, it would have been tragic not simply for the pain and suffering but because none of them are supposed to be there anyway.
The Knave Cafe, with its red satin drapes, lushly upholstered chairs and “deliciously diabolical drinks,” as the menu declares, has yet to reopen, and hotel staff could not yet say when it would. Perhaps never would be best. The Knave Cafe, it turns out, is kind of illegal.
In his first dispatch in almost a month, Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman heads (back) overseas, where he tours a new riverfront park in Madrid. Like the story of Hudson River Park and the West Side Highway before it, or Boston’s Big Dig, Madrid decided almost a decade ago to bury a Read More
Occupy Wall Street
Thomas Balsley is one of the foremost landscape architects in New York who happens to hold a special distinction as the person who has designed more Privately Owned Public Spaces, better known as POPS, than anyone else. A zoning anomaly until Occupy Wall Street made them famous, POPS have become an important part of the city’s landscape, and their fate is no doubt going to be debated in the year to come. Here, Mr. Balsley shares his thoughts on the vital importance of these spaces in our city and what their future holds.
In the recent flurry of newspaper accounts about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, we read a lot about how Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was a Privately Owned Public Space, a small, publicly accessible park maintained by private owners in exchange for zoning incentives.
As an urban landscape architect in New York City, I’ve designed dozens of these spaces. I’m proud to say I’ve been called (in Jerold Kayden’s Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience) “the most prolific of the city’s public space design specialists”; I’ve even had one named after me, Balsley Park, on West 57th St. And it’s precisely because I’ve seen firsthand the power of POPS to enhance our urban existence that I’m such a strong supporter of the zoning rules that created them. Almost 90 acres of POPS have been installed throughout the densely developed island of Manhattan, without a cent of public financing. Imagine what the city would have had to pay to acquire the land to build and then maintain even half of these!
Now that the occupation is over, however, the city is left facing some daunting questions about the ambiguous nature of these parks and plazas. Do they belong to the public, or to their owners? Should they be, and feel, more civic in character, or quieter and more sequestered? What limitations should be placed on their use? Some of these same questions were asked in the 19th century by the creators of our city’s great public parks. What’s remarkable is how, after over a hundred years, we as New Yorkers still haven’t come up with an adequate urban solution to the pressing social need that public demonstrations like OWS represent.
Is there anything you can’t do in a Privately Owned Public Space?
So far, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have managed to flout new provisions against lying down and erecting tents, while POPS activists have held parades and potlucks in these psuedo-parks. Now, a group of artists plans on taking one over this Saturday and turning it into a work space and gallery.
In addition to Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have taken over the Brooklyn Bridge, Park Avenue, Washington Square Park, Times Square, the local McDonald’s, and tonight they march on Lincoln Center. Fearing new encampments in the plazas outside of their Midtown towers, the already-occupied Brookfield Properties, as well as the august Rudin Management and the corporate godheads at Sony, have begun putting out new signs forbidding a litany of activities, according to The Times.
Privately owned public spaces, or POPS, have been largely ignored by New Yorkers, even as they have reshaped the city over the past 50 years. Plazas, passageways and pocket parks have been carved out of giant new office and apartment buildings in exchange for considerable development bonuses (a few hundred thousand square feet here or there). This has led a band of urban activists to fight for awareness of and activity in POPS across the city.
Thanks to the occupation of Zucotti Park, people have begun to take some notice of at least one such POPS, and the POPSters hope they can turn this into a new awareness of the spaces citywide. But the protests have also angered the landlords responsible for the spaces, and now they are preparing to fight back, possibly placing further restrictions on the city’s POPS.
Before sitting down to write this week’s story on privately owned public spaces, or POPS, The Observer took a stroll from NYO HQ across town to check in on some of the POPS in the city. (We were not as ambitious as The New Yorker, which managed to trek all the way to 59th Street without crossing any avenues).
Occupy Wall Street
The city will gain what amounts to a permanent, open park in the heart of one of the most densely built-up areas in the world. It is principally because of this public benefit that the commission has viewed this application with favor.
—City Planning application No. 20222, adopted March 20, 1968
Except for the highly intrusive police fencing lining a handful of streets and the occasional thrum of a drum circle, life goes on in Lower Manhattan. Tourists clog the streets in front of Century 21, craning to get a look at World Trade Center construction and the new 9/11 memorial beyond. Analysts and traders puff on cigarettes on the granite plazas outside their towering offices. Strollers abound.
The protests known as #occupywallstreet might better be called #occupyzucottipark. The plaza two blocks from the street of the protestors’ ire is well-known by now, a square to rival Rockefeller Center or the Apple Cube of Fifth Avenue in its current popularity.
Besides free pizza, pepper spray and those Guy Fawkes/V for Vendetta/Anonymous masks, one of the enduring symbols of the Occupy Wall Street protests has been the base camp at Zucotti Park. The park reopened in 2006, rebuilt by landlord Brookfield Properties after years of neglect followed by damage on 9/11.
It turned out to be a convenient location for protestors, as it is one of the largest open spaces near Wall Street, but the powerful Brookfield has been trying to evict the protestors all week. Now, the NYPD is taking the side of the protestors for once, saying thanks, but no thanks.