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You're Now (Sort of) Free to Enter Zuccotti Park

You're Now (Sort of) Free to Enter Zuccotti Park
Sarah Goodyear

Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan reopened on Tuesday morning. But with wind chill hovering around 14 degrees, few people took advantage of the opportunity to make their way past the metal fences that surround the contested plaza.

The barricades were torn down on New Year’s Eve by Occupy Wall Street protesters, although they didn’t stay down for long. Sixty-eight people were arrested that night, and the park was once again closed, as it was after OWS was ejected from Zuccotti on November 15.

There was speculation the park would be shut down indefinitely. But at 8 this morning, people were once again allowed in. A mufflered security guard stood sentry at a gap in the fence.

A handful of protesters once again filled the space. One, who gave his name only as Shane, cuddled a cat against his chest and cursed the cold. A tin soliciting donations balanced on the metal rail in front of him.

Others are using less physical tactics to reclaim Zuccotti Park. A group called #whOWNSpace is spearheading an email campaign to re-open the park fully.

The group is encouraging people to "Occupy the NYC Department of Buildings’ Inbox." Supporters are urged to write to the department’s commissioner, Robert D. LiMandri, and point out that as a privately owned public space, or POPS, Zuccotti is supposed to be easily accessible from the street.

Paula Z. Segal, a member of the National Lawyers Guild and a #whOWNSspace collaborator, says that some 100 people have written to the DOB about the barricades. A complaint about the matter is now officially registered on the DOB website. But it's been assigned priority D, and it's not clear when an inspection might happen.

A DOB spokesperson told me that the lack of a safety issue associated with the complaint meant it was less urgent than others made to the department.

Segal said that part of the point of the inbox occupation was to take action within the city’s bureaucracy. "We’re trying to use the existing system and the existing mechanisms," Segal says. "They’re not very durable, and they’re not very powerful, but they’re what we have." (Full disclosure: Aurash Khawarzad, a former colleague of mine, is also a #whOWNSpace collaborator.)

Segal says she hoped the attention that Zuccotti has brought to POPS would encourage more scrutiny of these hybrid places. Usually built by developers seeking variances in zoning, they are sometimes less accessible to the public than regulations require.

"After OWS was evicted, a lot of unconscionable things happened," Segal says. "The park remains barricaded. It’s such a precedent for how other owners of POPS could keep the public out."

Back at the park this morning, Shane says he plans to keep coming back to Zuccotti until he can't bear the winter weather any longer. He's hoping to find a place for his cat to stay so it isn’t exposed to the elements. "This is going to be a big year," he says. "It’s just a matter of making it through the winter."

All photos by Sarah Goodyear

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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