by Maxinne Rhea Leighton Assoc. AIA
Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space
Edited by Ron Shiffman, FAICP, Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, ACSA, Rick Bell, FAIA, and Lynne Elizabeth
With Anastassia Fisyak and Anusha Venkataraman
Foreword by Michael Kimmelman
New Village Press, 2012
Contributors: Roland V. Anglin, Caron Atlas, Thomas Balsley, Terri Baltimore, Shirin Barghi, Rick Bell, Marshall Berman, Julian Brash, Wendy E. Brawer, Paul Broches, Carlton Brown, Lance Jay Brown, David Burney, Brennan S. Cavanaugh, Susan Chin, Alexander Cooper, Arthur Eisenberg, Lynne Elizabeth, Anastassia Fisyak, Karen A. Franck, Michael Freedman-Schnapp, Mindy Thompson Fullilove, Gan Golan, Jeffrey Hou, Te-Sheng Huang, Lisa Keller, Brad Lander, Peter Marcuse, Jonathan Marvel, Signe Nielsen, Michael Pyatok, Michael Rios, Jonathan Rose, Janette Sadik-Khan, Saskia Sassen, Paula Z. Segal, Sadra Shahab, Benjamin Shepard, Ron Shiffman, Gregory Smithsimon, Michael Sorkin, Nikki Stern, and Maya Wiley
The aftermath of 9/11 brought into the consciousness of the public the critical importance of architectural design and public space within New York City’s built environment. People gathered in silence or to engage in dialogue within public, open spaces to find solidarity and attempt to make sense of the unimaginable. Voices of citizens in Town Hall scenarios impacted the direction and decisions made about the future of Ground Zero. People began to experience themselves in relationship to architecture and our shared public realm in a new and meaningful way. As time progressed, we all adjusted to the security measures of post-9/11, and the restriction of movement in places where none had previously existed. The Occupy Wall Street’s occupation of Zuccotti Park brought the nature of community and the power of physical space back into the headlines, this time with a focus on the right to freedom of assembly.
The Center for Architecture began a series of panels and discussions on how Occupy Wall Street was impacting the dialogue on public space. As was astutely observed, the conversation that had once been so critical post-9/11 was moving toward a different kind of societal discourse – democracy, social equity, and public place.
The Beyond Zuccotti Park book launch was held at the Center 09.10.12, followed by the third in the Freedom of Assembly series on 09.16.12 (see report above). The essays are as eclectic as the writers’ viewpoints, making them rich and provocative. The common thread, which is so clearly stated in the book’s acknowledgements, is their “commitment to the important role that public space, universal access, equity, and design can play to enhance democracy and promote freedom of expression.” The concepts of public commons and the agora became part of the conversation not only within the context of cultural citizenship, but also in the vital role design plays in forming the public sector.
In his essay “Emplacing Democratic Design,” Michael Rios tackles a very challenging issue: “…how the field of urbanism – as practiced by architects, planners, and urban designers – maintains the illusion of public space while making invisible certain segments of the public.” This is in contrast to, Rios writes, what “Henri Lefebvre (1991) called ‘the illusion of transparency,’ which masks the reality that spaces of the city are socially produced to serve power interests. “ If you contrast this to “Life and Death in Public Space,” the poignantly written essay by Nikki Stern who, from the perspective of having lost her husband on 9/11, describes her walk from the 9/11 Memorial to Zuccotti Park, you have a clear sense of the richness of the arc of this body of work.
Beyond Zuccotti Park is not written as, nor is it meant to be, a political manifesto. It is a compendium of ideas, challenges, reflections, observations, and thought-provoking questions that members of the design and planning community are grappling with as citizens and professionals committed to enhancing the public realm. Sitting in the audience at both the book launch and this most recent dialogue series, the Center of Architecture felt very much like an agora.
Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA, is a member of the AIANY Oculus Committee and in charge of NE Region Business Development/Marketing at Parsons Brinckerhoff.