“Meet Me at the Plaza,” nytimes.com, Oct. 19.
What is public? The word — derived from the Latin “populis” meaning “the people” — is typically used to describe groups of individuals. But the line has become increasingly blurred regarding corporations.
Tensions between private and public interests have blossomed since the NYPD convinced OWS?protesters to make a home of Zuccotti Park. The park — once known by the Tahrir-esque One Liberty Plaza before being renamed in honor of a corporate ally on the city zoning board — is what is known as a “privately owned public space,” a seemingly paradoxical legal entity born out of New York City’s need to temper its glass, steel and concrete with usable green space. Property owners — in this case Brookfield Properties — receive lucrative zoning concessions in return for a public contribution and the stipulation that their rules governing the shared space be “reasonable.” Who decides said reasonability? That remains a private matter.
Before these protests, Brookfield’s view of “reasonable” centered on restricting use of bicycles and skateboards. Recently, however, the corporation has come to rethink its linguistic assessment. Last week, notices circulated warning of new rules prohibiting “lying down on the ground” and “the placement of tarps or sleeping bags.” That could be a huge problem as winter settles over the city.
Wealthy landlords are currently working on plans to prevent future occupations of public spaces. Says Steven Spinola, president of the city’s Real Estate Board: “If you can say that the plazas are closed between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., I’m not sure who that’s harming.” Here’s a hint:?It’s not him and his private-interest buddies.
Is that reasonable? It depends on who you ask.