Revenge of the Plaza Bonus

Zuccotti Park, before and after Occupy Wall Street, image via Curbed NY

If you believe that good and bad intentions eventually circle around to some sort of cosmic resolution—karma, if you will—then the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park are sweet indeed. Why? Zuccotti Park (named for John Zuccotti, former deputy mayor, former planning commissioner, chairman of the real estate behemoth Brookfield Properties, and all around operator—a deep pocketed capitalist, if you will) is one of those strange New York anomalies: privately owned public space. The park, which until the protesters arrived was very much under the radar, is the product of a 1961 zoning ordinance that gave developers (like John Zuccotti) extra height in exchange for the creation of plazas, parks and atriums, which they were in turn responsible for maintaining and keeping open to the public. The Plaza Bonus, as it was called, inspired more than 500 of these hybrid spaces. Some, like the atrium at the IBM Building, were genuine public amenities; others were altogether forlorn and “parks” in name only.

Zuccotti Park (originally called Liberty Plaza Park—think barren and windswept) was created in 1969, when U.S. Steel was given an extra 500,000 square feet of office space at nearby 1 Liberty Plaza . And guess who owns the 54-story building and adjacent park today? Brookfield Properties. So it all ties together rather neatly: the protesters were allowed to gather in Zuccotti Park because the Plaza Bonus that created it allowed them to.

Somewhere Holly Whyte is smiling.

Related: Martin Pedersen explains the fallout of the plaza bonus in this Metropolis film, My Banal Neighborhood.

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