Occupy Wall Street's invisible asset

What started out as a protest in New York City has now spread throughout 900 cities around the world. But the Occupy Wall Street protest might not have started at all in New York City without the help from the very people they're protesting.

And it's all thanks to a New York City land-use policy.

The epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement is in Zuccotti Park. The park is privately-owned by office landlord, Brookfield Office Properties Inc. and its open all day and night to the public. But how did the park come to existence in the first place? A zoning code that requires developers of large towers to set aside a certain amount of “privately owned public space.” The Wall Street Journal explains:

Termed a “privately owned public space” — or POPS, in zoning parlance — these plazas stand at the intersection of capitalist instinct and public interest.

The zoning code puts restrictions on the scale of towers that developers are allowed to build. In an attempt to add public space in Manhattan without buying new parkland, city government allowed developers to build bigger structures if they set aside a plaza that remains open to the public.

While many of these are tucked away in the backs of buildings or in lobbies, Zuccotti Park turns out to be one of the most accessible POPS in the city. Of course, there is an irony that the space in which Occupy Wall Street has found a continued home is owned by the city’s largest landlord for financial services firms — the very industry they are protesting.

These POPs are not only good for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, they're also a smart way to help the city conserve land for public use. This zoning code has allowed for 500-plus privately owned public plazas throughout the city, and at least half are open all the time.

And while cities need development, they also need places like Zuccotti Park to protest, gather, and play.

Photo: david_shankbone/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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