Wall Street Protests at Zuccotti Park

New York, NY, USA
September 17, 2011
Logan Carroll and Richard Sa

NYPD watches over empty Zuccotti Park
NYPD watches over an empty Zuccotti Park after the raid (Dan Nguyen’s flickr).

In the summer of 2011, many Americans were becoming upset with the deep rift developing between the top 1% of the country and the bottom 99%. A group of Americans organized a protest which they named “Occupy Wall Street” the organizers, along with hundreds of other citizens who had become fed up with the economic inequality, flooded Zuccotti Park in the Manhattan Financial District on September 17 to protest the situation on Wall Street. The protestors remained there, living in tents, until November 15, when the New York Police Department began clearing the park due to rising sanitation concerns.

After an early morning police raid removing protesters, returned holding photocopies of a court order which allowed them to return to the park. (AP / Bebeto Matthews)
After an early morning police raid removing protesters, returned holding photocopies of a court order which allowed them to return to the park. (AP / Bebeto Matthews)

The protestors were able to remain in Zuccotti Park because of the park’s unique designation as a privately owned public space. These spaces were put in place as part of an agreement between New York City and those constructing buildings. The city allowed some flexibility in the zoning laws, allowing more floors to be built, in exchange for leaving plaza space on the ground floor for public use. Zuccotti Park was built by U.S. Steel, who was constructing a building across the street. As a result, the park is now owned by the owners of the U.S. Steel Building, now known as One Liberty Plaza. The unique conditions of the space in Zuccotti Park raise an interesting architectural question; where public space ends and where private space begins. This distinction is made, in part, based on perspective, but also based on who owns the space. All public space is owned, whether by a private company in a privately owned public space or by the local government in a publicly owned space.

These ruling entities place rules and restrictions over these spaces and cause them to act significantly less like public space than their intended use. While that is really an area that cannot be changed, as some kind of governance is required for a space, it is interesting that what is considered to be public space is some of the most controlled space in our cities. In lobbies of office buildings, which are usually open to the public, there is usually at least one security guard and public parks usually have at least one police officer present throughout the day. These spaces are under very specific rules, and for parks under control of New York City, are subject to curfews, when people are required to leave the park. These situations lead to a very un-public feeling in many of these spaces meant to be public. The Zuccotti Park protests introduced the question that, if the government does not own a space, can they force people to leave it.

Zuccotti Park’s functional zoning. (NYTimes / Bedel Saget & Archie Tse)
Zuccotti Park’s functional zoning. (NYTimes / Bedel Saget & Archie Tse)

The ownership of the park is one of the major reasons the protestors chose Zuccotti Park as the center of their protests. Along with its location in the heart of the financial district, as a privately owned public space, it is legally required to remain open 24 hours. City owned parks however, close between 9 PM and 1AM and prohibit tents.

Another advantage with staging their protest in Zuccotti Park is that it does not sit directly next to its owning building. It takes up an entire city block across the street from One Liberty Plaza. This situation is ideal for a protest, as it gives visibility to the protestors from all four sides, allowing them to spread their message to both pedestrians and passing cars.

Rules are posted at the Occupy Wall Street encampment. (AP / Mary Altaffer)
Rules are posted at the Occupy Wall Street encampment. (AP / Mary Altaffer)

Another factor in the ambiguity of the definition of public and private space is the perspective of those inhabiting the space and how that perspective changes the space. For example, at a normal school, somebody walking down a hallway is in both public and private space. From the perspective of those in a classroom, the hallway represents public space, while a person outside the school views the hallway as a much more private area. These same situations occur in city life as well. Lobbies of office buildings act as the ambiguous private/public zone between the street and office space.

This ambiguity causes difficulty to arise in how to police these areas when this situation occurs in an outdoor setting, which is where the Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park meet with architectural ideas. The protestors, in occupying a park that was not owned by the city, felt they had the right to remain in that space for as long as they wanted to stay there and exercise their first amendment rights. The City of New York felt that by allowing the protestors to remain in the public space, they were permitting a public nuisance to continue. Residents near Zuccotti Park complained not only about the noise levels caused by the protests, but also about the poor sanitary conditions caused by hundreds of people living in tents for two straight months. The protestors also caused a large number of onlookers to gather daily, due to the size and prominence of their protest, interrupting daily life for residents and those who worked near the park.

A police officer helps clear the trash at Zuccotti Park as the cleanup effort began early in the morning. (AP / John Minchillo)
A police officer helps clear the trash at Zuccotti Park as the cleanup effort began early in the morning. (AP / John Minchillo)

The City had to make the decision whether they would allow the protestors to continue to occupy the park and practice their constitutional rights, or to step in and control the situation. Mayor Bloomberg wanted to evict the protestors based on sanitary conditions, while the protestors believed that, since it was a privately owned park, only the owners could force them to leave. The city began forcing protestors to evict the park on November 15, but the New York State Supreme Court issued a ruling that the protestors would be allowed to stay at the park, although the police refused to allow them to return. Later that day, the court again ordered that they were allowed in the park, but the protestors were no longer allowed to sleep in the park. After this ruling, the police barricaded the park off for about two months after that, effectively ending the Occupy Wall Street movement.

While the Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park began as a movement against the economic inequality in America, it became much more than that as questions regarding public space versus private space were introduced. The ambiguity over ownership and inhabitation of the park caused a large conflict over ownership, policy enforcement and whether New York City could force the protestors out of the space. A possible solution to this conflict is by allowing the city to take over control of privately owned space if it is decided that the private owners refuse to maintain order in the space, as it did in Zucotti Park.




Nguyen, Dan. “NYPD watches over empty Zuccotti Park.” November 15, 2011. Online image. Flickr. 8 September 2013.<http://www.flickr.com/photos/zokuga/6347486034/in/photostream/>

Saget, Bedel and Tse, Archie. October 5, 2011. Online image. New York Times. 16 September 2013. < http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/05/nyregion/how-occupy-wall-street-turned-zuccotti-park-into-a-protest-camp.html?_r=0>

Minchillo, John. November 15, 2011. Online Image. Associated Press. 16 September 2013. <http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2011/11/police-bust-ny-occupy-protest.html#more>

Matthews, Bebeto. November 15, 2011. Online Image. Associated Press. 16 September 2013. <http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2011/11/police-bust-ny-occupy-protest.html#more>

Altaffer, Mary. November 15, 2011. Online image. Associated Press. 16 September 2013. <http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2011/11/police-bust-ny-occupy-protest.html#more>



Foderaro, Lisa W. “Privately Owned Park, Open to the Public, May Make Its Own Rules.” New York Times. Last modified October 13, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/nyregion/zuccotti-park-is-privately-owned-but-open-to-the-public.html?_r=1&.

Foderaro discusses the differences between Zuccotti Park and other privately owned public spaces, especially its distinction of being surrounded by four streets rather than having one side against the building which owns it. It also contains information on now New York City allowed some leniency in the zoning laws in return for the construction of the privately owned public spaces.

Massey, Jonathan, and Brett Snyder. “Mapping Liberty Plaza.” The Design Observer Group. Observer Omnimedia LLCContact | Comments Policy | Support | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use, 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2013. <http://places.designobserver.com/feature/mapping-liberty-plaza/35948/>.

There is a lot of emphasis on what Zuccotti Park represented to the protest but this article focuses on what it was like to be inside the park itself. It explores how social media and urban space influenced public life and political action. The article also looks into how protesters organized themselves within the park. Being a place that was to be occupied for 24 hours a day, it required planning for occupiers to do their daily tasks.

Kimmelman, Michael. “In Power, the Power of Place.” Daily Times 17 Oct. 2011: n. pag. Print.

Kimmelman provides a good brief in the role that architecture and public space can have on politics. It also looks at how we protests differently in the current generation with the influence of new technologies. Protesters were banned from using megaphones so they used “mic checks” to spread any announcements around the crowd.

New York City Department of City Planning. “Privately Owned Public Space.” Last modified October 17th, 2007. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/priv/priv.shtml.

The unique situation that exists at Zuccotti Park is a result of regulations passed in NYC in the 1960s . The park is a privately owned public space, which is part of the reason it was chosen as the home of the protestor. This source provides information on the history of privately owned public space and the types of results from these spaces.

Saul, Josh. “Angry Manhattan Residents Lambast Zuccotti Park Protesters.” New York Post. Last modified October 20, 2011. http://nypost.com/2011/10/20/angry-manhattan-residents-lambast-zuccotti-park-protesters/.

This source describes the problems that the protesters caused in the surrounding neighborhoods. It is an example of how a space’s placement within a city can have an effect on the surrounding areas. 

Scola, Nancy. “For the Anti-Corporate Occupy Wall Street Demonstrators, the Semi-Corporate Status of Zuccotti Park May Be a Boon.” Last modified October 2, 2011. http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2011/10/3583314/anti-corporate-occupy-wall-street-demonstrators-semi-corporate-stat.

This source discusses the history of the development of Zuccotti Park, nad how its unique designation as privately owned public space can help the protestors in their quest for financial equality. It also discusses the problems of constitutional rights given to those gathering in private/public spaces.



Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “New York City,” accessed September 16, 2013,< http://www.britannica.com/EB checked/topic/412352/New-Tork-City.>

When zoning laws passed in New York City, it changed not only those living in it but all urban cities that began to grow in the 20th century. This encyclopedia provides a history of New York City and how it began to be organized as a result of regulations places on architects and urban planners.



Wade, Matt. Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public SpaceEScholarship. Berkeley Planning Journal, Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley, 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013. <http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4jv715pw>.

Being the first city to initiate zoning laws, NYC’s “P.O.P.S.” (Privately Owned Public Space) proved to cause many problems regarding property ownership. It talks about how the P.O.P.S. started with the birth of the “bonus plaza” program which was a zoning law that passed that allowed architects to build higher in exchange for plaza/public space.  This will be an important source to look into how politics shaped the vague disparity between private and public space which eventually have leeway for protesters to occupy Zuccotti Park for 24 hours.

Nyong’o, Tavia. “The Scene of Occupation.” TDR 56.Winter 2012 (2012): 136-49.Project Muse. Web. 8 Sept. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/tdr/summary/v056/56.4.nyong-o.html>.

Tavia Nyong’o documented the protests in London. The article compares the Occupy London movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. The article will help our research in how the protests in NYC reached others at a global scale. It will also help us in looking at how protesters used techniques to reach out to the public.



Eckert, Josef. “Geolocating the #Occupy movement – surprising results and importance of scale!” SoMe Lab. Last modified March 1, 2012. http://somelab.net/2012/03/geolocating-the-occupy-movement-surprising-results-and-importance-of-scale/.

Eckert is focused on the number and proximity of tweets in relation to different Occupy movements across the country. It provides examples of how large of a role that social media had in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and how the space around the occupied space affected the number of people who got involved.


“Putting Public Space In Its Place.” Harvard GSD, Cambridge. 8 Sept. 2013. Lecture. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSw7cfIMNDM>.

This lecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design looks at Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square and discusses the separation between private space, public space, public space owned by private companies and what it means for protesters, politicians, and the public.


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