Thanks to Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, a small privately owned “public” park, has become a household name. The plaza bonus provisions provided by New York City’s 1961 zoning created a proliferation of private spaces that were intended for public use. Today’s op-ed piece in the New York Times — Meet Me at the Plaza by Jerold S. Kayden — points out the myriad problems associated with trying to create public spaces on privately controlled property.
These same problems are manifest in New Jersey’s Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, a state-mandated 21-mile 30-foot wide walk from the Bayonne Bridge to the George Washington Bridge. Private developers are required to build this walkway as a condition of their state waterfront development permit.
Many sections of the walkway abut the private back yards of condominium developments, thus creating a built-in conflict between the public seeking to access the water’s edge and the private owners who would prefer not seeing strangers from their backyards. Waterfront developers have found countless ways to discourage the public from getting to the water: guard houses, fences, gates, etc.
Riva Pointe a development on a pier at Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken, New Jersey erected an imposing gate at its entrance, an effective deterrent to anyone seeking to follow the state walkway to the water’s edge at this location. Other development projects on piers provide an effective means of defining the space as being private, not public.
In 2000, Mr. Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard, conducted a study with the NYC Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society. In his op-ed piece, Kayden writes that this study found 40 percent of the 500 public plazas, arcades and indoor spaces “were and are practically useless, with austere designs, no amenities and little or no direct sunlight. Roughly half of the buildings surveyed had spaces that were illegally closed or otherwise privatized.”