Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Privately Owned Public Space? “Occupy Wall Street” Real Estate Questions

Rainy Morning at Liberty Square: Occupy Wall Street HQ

For almost two weeks hundreds of protesters calling themselves “Occupy Wall Street” have been camped out in an open air plaza located between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. The protesters have set up information tables, a library, a General Assembly area, a kitchen, a media center and a space for protest sign making. Known as Liberty Square by the protestors and named Zuccotti Park by Brookfield Office Properties after its chairman John C. Zuccotti, the plaza is a “POPS”: a privately owned public space.

What’s a POPS and what does this mean for the protesters?

In the case of Liberty Square, Brookfield Office Properties owns the land and maintains the park, but the plaza is considered open to the public. The go-to reference here is the book “Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience”, by Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden, which was published by the New York City Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society of New York in 2000. The Department of City Planning website also has some helpful background information. There are currently over 500 POPS in the city and they all are outgrowths of the 1961 Zoning Resolution (and various later amendments). The goal of that resolution was to allow real estate developers to build bigger than normally allowed by city zoning regulations (including, according to the DCP, “relief from certain height and setback restrictions”) and in exchange the developers have been contractually required to provide new publically accessible spaces.

Practically speaking, in 1968 Brookfield Office Properties essentially “bought” the right to build an additional 500,000 square feet of office space at its 54 story building One Liberty Plaza, just to the north of the park, in exchange for agreeing to build and maintain a public space. For some more on this deal see this recent New York Times article.

So what laws shape the use of Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park?

According to Professor Kayden’s book, when a POPS deal goes down, the developers agree to provide legally binding rights of access to members of the public in exchange for the value they get from the relaxation of specific zoning regulations. Can Brookfield Office Properties tell the protesters to get out? It all depends on what is in the various legal documents they signed with the city.

Calls are in to the NYC Department of City Planning and also to Professor Kayden and we hope to have more detailed information soon.

Special thanks to Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates for the tip on Professor Kayden's book.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Session Nine: Gao Min and Peter Walsh

Gao Min and Peter Walsh on Wien Walk in Central Park, September 3, 2011. Photo by Wei Chen
Shaded by the cool oak canopy of Central Park’s Wein Walk, artists Gao Min and Peter Walsh finished their exchange of drawings this morning – number fifteen in the ongoing series of portrait exchanges in the Central Park Portrait Exchange. The session had been interrupted three weeks earlier when a brisk trade of art patrons prevented Walsh from beginning his drawing. Gao had a line of customers!

Sitting for his portrait this morning Gao laughed, “It’s been a long time since I’ve sat for someone else. It’s hard! When I was a student at art school in China we would sit for each other, but it’s been years.” Gao is a former art professor and former director of the Division of Western Arts in the Department of Fine Arts at Southwest-China University, a large school located in Chongqing, China. Among his many achievements is his college level instructional art book “Color,” which has gone through 13 editions in China.

“I’ve been drawing in Central Park for sixteen years,” he says, “though mainly now I come on weekends. Aside from the extra money, I come because of the faces. So many faces to draw!” During the week Gao works in a commercial art studio. Trained in the realist drawing tradition (both Chinese and Western), Gao also paints at home and is experimenting with new works that he has yet to release to the public. To see older works, go to his website here.

Some thoughts from Peter Walsh:

“Ouch. I try not to see the Central Park Portrait Exchange as a competitive form, but when my work is placed next to someone as talented as Gao Min, it’s hard not to feel the pain!

I was excited to complete this exchange because I had first met Min in New York State court in September of 2010 when we both testified against the New York City Parks Department by authenticating our videos of artists being abused by new park rules that forced them to sprint into Central Park at 6am every morning. Click here and here for details. Min’s disturbing video was appropriately called “Artist or Race Cow?”; mine was “NYC Mayor Bloomberg Forces Artists to Run for their Livelihoods.

That said, although my rough drawing of Min pales next to his elegant one of me, I did capture some part of a likeness of him. “It’s fine,” says Min, “you’re good enough to work here in the park if you wanted to. People will pay.”

I’ll take that as a thumbs up! Thanks, Min.