Places that Matter

Zuccotti Park (formerly Liberty Plaza Park)

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Zuccotti Park, photo by Anna Mule
Zuccotti Park, photo by Anna Mule
Zuccotti Park, photo by Anna Mule
Zuccotti Park, photo by Anna Mule
Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park, September 2011, photo by Sara Hahn
Occupy Wall Street posters in Zuccotti Park, September 2011, photo by Sara Hahn
Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, photo by Henry Chalfant
Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street demonstrator, photo by Henry Chalfant
Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street demonstrator, photo by Henry Chalfant
Park rebuilt after 9/11/01 terrorist attack
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Place Matters Profile

Zuccotti Park is a 33,000-square-foot space located in the Financial District between Broadway, Trinity Place, Liberty Street and Cedar Street. As of 2011, the park is operated, owned, and managed by Brookfield Properties, a commercial real estate corporation that works with high-end assets in North America and Australia. Their property at One Liberty Plaza houses many leading financial and professional services firms including Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Zurich American Insurance and Royal Bank of Canada. Zuccotti Park is a bonus plaza for One Liberty Plaza, which means that the public green space is a zoning requirement for the real estate corporation.

When skyscrapers were first erected in New York City in the late nineteenth century, they were considered engineering marvels that enabled property owners to capitalize on real estate by building up rather than out. But by the mid-twentieth century, concerns over land use and the possibility of turning surrounding neighborhoods into dense, shadowy canyons prompted the popularization of incentive zoning through which developers could gain additional floor area by providing public amenities. In 1961, New York City's Planning Commission adopted a zoning resolution that restricted the bulk and density of new development. Builders were also encouraged to create open space like plazas, arcades and open-air concourses in exchange for the right to build taller structures. 

One Liberty Plaza was erected in 1968, on the site of the former Singer Building, a 47-story office building designed by Ernest Flagg, and commissioned by Frederick Bourne, head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The Singer Building was the tallest in the world from 1908 to 1909, when the title was usurped by Napoleon LeBrun and Sons' Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at One Madison Avenue. 

In 1964, United States Steel bought the Singer Building and the neighboring City Investing Building, and demolition began in August 1967. The following year, United States Steel brokered a deal permitting it to erect an new office building nine stories higher than contemporary zoning laws allowed, in exchange for creating a plaza. In 1973, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's 54-story United States Steel tower opened for business, and Liberty Plaza Park was developed on an adjacent site south of Liberty Street. Ultimately the park, a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS), enveloped a narrow alley known as Temple Street and a Chock Full o' Nuts coffee shop, which held out on the site until its lease expired in 1980. The displacement was mitigated to a certain degree by the contractual proviso that the park remain open to the public 24 hours a day. 

After 9/11, Liberty Plaza Park was used as a stage for cleanup and emergency vehicles and equipment. Debris and dust were lodged into the Double Check sculpture, and the weight of vehicles cracked the park’s foundation. Extensive renovation of the park entailed demolition, deep excavation, recompacting the soil, and designing a new landscape that would welcome the thousands of tourists and workers who pass through the area every day.

The park reopened on June 1, 2006, with a new name: Zucotti Park, named after John Zuccotti, the U.S. Chairman of Brookfield Properties and also the chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, former first deputy mayor of the City of New York, and former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission. The park's renovation, designed by Cooper, Robertson and Partners, received the 2007 American Institute of Architects-New York Merit Award.

Zuccotti Park features two works of public art. Joie de Vivre is a 70-foot sculpture that pierces the sky with its red steel lines, and was designed by Mark di Suvero. In the opposite corner is the newly cast Double Check, a bronze sculpture of a man with a briefcase, by J. Seward Johnson. The park also gives root to more than 50 locust trees, brightly colored tulips pushing up from manicured planters, and features permanent tables and seats. A number of vendors line the busy park, offering a variety of savory smells to visitors. Ice cream trucks, Halal food, New York pretzels, fruit smoothies, hot dogs, and farmers’ market goods are just some of the tasty options. 

Since Saturday, September 17, 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement has claimed Zuccotti Park as its base of operations. Because the park is privately owned, neither the mayor nor the police can force the protesters to decamp. Still open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Zuccotti Park now features a sprawling campsite, a people's library, a media station, a kitchen, information booths, posters, drum circles and between hundreds and thousands of people. Full-time and part-time protesters, supporters, news media, police officers and tourists have occupied or visited the actual site, while the eyes of the rest of the world focus, with increasing intensity, on websites reporting the demonstration's growing momentum. While the movement has not officially codified its demands, it calls for an equitable allocation of resources.