The Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful developers’ trade association, is trying to get the city to change a 1975 law requiring privately-owned public spaces to be open 24/7. REBNY hasn’t yet submitted a proposal to the city, but following reports of REBNY’s plans, there’s been something of an online campaign to stop them in their tracks. If regulations requiring public-private parks to stay open were changed, that could spell doomsday for the Zuccotti occupation.
How likely is it that this could actually happen, though? Not very.
REBNY wouldn’t comment on this story, but they did speak to The Real Deal. REBNY president Steven Spinola told TRD that the proposal is not even a proposal yet; it’s in early discussions and “would probably take somewhere between six months and a year to actually carry out.”
By that time, it’s fair to say that the Occupy Wall Street occupation of Zuccotti will probably have ended. And OWS is really the only thing that could give developers meaningful political leverage in changing a law that was made to keep parks like Zuccotti open.
Gregory Smithsimon, an urban sociology professor at Brooklyn College, said that “this is a convenient moment for them to push for what they’ve always pushed for” (“them” being developers).
Privately-owned public spaces were born of a bargain between the city and developers; in exchange for building rights, developers agreed to create open spaces for the public.
But according to Smithsimon, “historically, the lion’s share of developers, particularly in the bad old days, thought a plaza was nothing but an added expense and headache.”
The tensions surrounding the occupation of Zuccotti Park mean that REBNY might finally see its chance to rid itself of the headache once and for all. Smithsimon doubts that “all different aspects of city government are ready to throw out 50 years of public plazas,” and that combined with the far-off timing of the future proposal makes changing the rules look pretty dubious.
A Department of City Planning spokeswoman told us that “We have not received a proposal from REBNY, but any proposed change to what’s in the zoning text would be subject to the City’s public land use review process.”