Monday, January 30, 2012

#whOWNSpace #GRNPNT Video + Outcomes

Video of the process of organizing and holding the #whOWNSpace #GRNPNT studio/class.

The class was a way to observe, diagram, and propose new uses and a network of open spaces in a large section of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The class was divided in three sections:

people were asked to take a 1.5 hour walking tour and were asked to observe one of these elements, focusing on the democratic vitality of the open spaces:
1.Access 2.GatheringSpace 3.Boundaries 4.UrbanFurniture 5.Lighting 6.Barriers 7.Signage 8.Personnel 9.Demographics 10.Uses


The elements observed in the step above were diagrammed using 11"x17" maps and a 2'x4' model that #whOWNSpace provided.


The result of the studio was to form a group of designers, journalists, politicians, and other citizens that will continue to advocate and develop a BLACKBELT network of public spaces for community engagement, organizing, and action. We will do this through direct action campaigns, policy changes, and design solutions.

Join Us in this effort - we will need you as we plan and execute BLACKBELT actions (add #GRNPNT to your name)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's still your city... right? #occupyDOB #occupyLandmarks

Image by Stephan Von Muehlen
According to an article published yesterday, Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon told the Village Voice the commission considers the fencing surrounding Chase Manhattan Plaza removable, and therefore outside the commission's purview.

But that doesn't seem right at all. 

Here's the law: "If an owner wishes to perform any work on a designated landmark or on a property in a designated historic district, he or she must obtain a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission approving such work before carrying it out." The Commission will only issue a permit if it deems that the proposed work has no effect, is appropriate or is minor.

Permit applications for TEMPORARY changes -- defined as one (1) calendar year or less -- must be filed and include a plan and time schedule for the dismantling of the installation and Installation details indicating that there will be no damage to protected architectural features. There has been no application filed for the fences.

The phone number for Landmarks is 212-669-7951.

Today is a great day to give Landmarks a ring to talk about whether a fence that has been up for 4 months and seems to be staying up indefinitely is within the Commission's purview.
We'd love to hear how your conversation goes -- email with a report.

Here are some things you might say:
1. You might want to ask to see a copy of the permit for the fence work, even if it is temporary, being sure to ask for a the plan and time schedule for dismantling the fences and details indicating that the fences will not damage protected architectural features.

2. You might want to use the language below which come directly from the Chase Manhattan Plaza Landmarks Designation Report, and also contain photographs of the places we can't access now.

"Not only did it stand out sharply from its older masonry neighbors, but the planning of the site, incorporating an irregularly shaped 2½ acre plaza, established a welcome break from the narrow, twisting streets that characterize much of
the neighborhood."

"The plaza was intended to be one of the project’s most dramatic and distinctive features. It isolates the tower from its older masonry neighbors and the empty space functions as an elegantly minimal forecourt or, as Architectural Forum described it, a 'front yard.'"

"As originally built, the raised plaza was reached from three marble staircases, each with a different design. The widest and most elaborate stairs is located to the south and adjoins Pine Street. Due to the sloping site, it was designed with a second set of deep cantilevered risers to the east. The west stairs is located near the intersection of Nassau Street and Cedar Street and consists of two elements: a staircase that narrows slightly as it descends to the concourse level and behind it, a wider staircase, which rises onto the plaza. The east stairs descend to where William Street meets Cedar."

"The south plaza’s most conspicuous feature is Isamu Noguchi’s “Sunken Garden"... this unique sculptural work was commissioned for public view. This type of patronage was not uncommon in the late 1950s when large, often colorful, pieces of abstract art were frequently introduced into office building lobbies, bank interiors, restaurants and airline terminals."

"The plaza’s “Sunken Garden” is sited in a circular well between the south stairs and a raised cantilevered marble planting bed that is original and adjoins the east facade of 20 Pine Street. The 60-foot diameter garden is well preserved; it was designed to be viewed from the plaza..."

"On the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture and other features of this building, the Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that One Chase Manhattan Plaza has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage, and cultural characteristics of New York City."

#occupyDOB #occupyLandmarks

UPDATE 01.27.12:
"...Richie Nagan, the Building Department expediter who first complained about the barriers at Zuccotti Park and alerted the National Lawyers Guild to the violations, disagrees.
"Actually a permit is issued by Landmarks" for a case like this, Nagan says, citing page 28 of the Guidelines and Materials Checklists for Performing Work on Landmarked Buildings, which says even "temporary installations" require a plan filed with the Commission and assurances that the installation will be removed on time.
De Bourbon disgrees, claiming that regulation only governs signs."
Chase Manhattan Plaza Still Fenced Off, Activists Call on Landmarks Commission To Act
Nick Pinto, The Village Voice 01.27.12

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#whOWNSpace GREENPOINT: Observe, Diagram, Intervene

Date: January 29, 2012 at 1:00pm
Meet up: 155 Freeman St, Brooklyn
Facilitators: DSGN AGNCDoTank:BrooklynBRUNO596 acres
Twitter: #whOWNSpace#GRNPNT
Following up on our past studio/class, this Public School NYC studio/class will use design and urban theory to critically study the design, ownership, and rules of Greenpoint's open spaces and infrastructure as part of the #whOWNSpace project. The lens for the studio will be on neighborhood power dynamics around space, focusing on the potential of open space to create democratic vitality.  We want to look at and propose a 'Black Belt' of open spaces that can be used for community organizing and activism.

Read this review by Urban Omnibus on the previous TPSNYC and #whOWNSpace class:

UPDATE 1.29.12:
The DSGN AGNC crew built this diagrammatic model of Greenpoint for today's class:

 The participants in the class will be using it to study Greenpoint's open spaces and propose a 'BLACKBELT' of open spaces used for community engagement, organizing, and action. See you there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#occupyDOB Un-caging the Commons - Illegal Fences at One Chase Manhattan Plaza

The fences at Liberty Plaza are down but public space in Lower Manhattan remains barricaded. Just down the block, the One Chase Manhattan Plaza has been closed since mid-September. Chase closed the plaza in anticipation of the first Occupy Wall Street General Assembly that was called for that space at 3pm on September 17. It was on the map that was handed out that day, but when people arrived at the plaza, it was closed - barricaded with fences that appear to have been purpose-built by the building owners or management. 

The assembly happened elsewhere, and history unfolded. But our public space continues to be compromised. 

A great public plaza and seminal works of public art have been caged for four months (Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, 1964, and Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees, 1972). 

One Chase Manhattan Plaza was constructed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP in 1961; the architects voluntarily allocated the majority of the allowable space to the public realm. The plaza was a success and created a model for future privately owned public space (POPS) zoning and the Zoning Resolution that governs post-1961 POPS. The public use of the plaza as designed set the standard for public space in densely-built Manhattan. Chase Manhattan is a private space, but a private space built with the intention of public use; we are the public, and we can leverage New York City agency power to help us get our commons back. 

Here’s how: One Chase Manhattan Plaza got Landmark status in 2009. Part of its historical significance is the deliberate allocation of plaza space for public use. 
Under New York City law, before doing work on landmark properties that will affect their exteriors, building owners or tenants need to apply for a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Violations of the Landmarks Law occur either when work is done on a Landmark without a permit or when work does not comply with a permit. The fences around Chase Manhattan plaza clearly affect the exterior of the building, yet no one has applied for a permit for their erection (the only permit for exterior work filed in the last two years -- scaffolding for the sculptures -- is here).

The New York City Landmarks law has been violated with the erection of the fences and the closing of Chase Manhattan Plaza. Luckily -- anyone can report a violation by filling out this form and sending it in (in the real mail or through a hand-delivery -- the Landmark Preservation Commission hasn’t joined us in the digital age, yet).

Here are the questions on the form, and how you can fill it out:

Building Number: 26
Street Name: Nassau
Cross Street(s): William, Nassau, Pine, Liberty
Borough: Manhattan

Fences have been added at all access points around the historic Chase Manhattan Plaza. This work was done without a permit and has altered the landmark’s exterior. Outdoor public artwork that is part of the Landmark is not accessible as it was when the building became a landmark.

Mail or bring to:
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th floor North
New York, New York 10007
Attn. Violations Unit

Then send us an email at to let us know that you filed a complaint.

Two Additional Notes:

ONE: The Department of Buildings is also an agency that can be contacted about these fences. They have received one complaint so far: “THERE ARE FENCES AT THE PERIMETER OF THE PLAZA THAT IS NOT PROPERLY INSTALLED. IT IS HELD DOWN BY SANDBAGS CREATING A DANGEROUS CONDITION AS THEY CAN BE BLOWN OVER BY STRONG WIND AND CAUSE INJURY.” You can also submit your own, following this model. We will be monitoring how they respond.

TWO: And here’s a chance to engage people directly at the barricaded plaza, this Thursday:
There is a NY Legal Services labor action planned for this space for 8am on Thursday, January 19, 2012. We are looking for #whOWNSpace volunteers to go and have folks fill out this complaint to the Landmark’s Commission, then drop them off at 1 Center Street that same morning. 

**Project Formulated by #whOWNSpace. All Images taken by designer Aaron Plewke over the last three months and manipulated for this post by Quilian Riano from DSGN AGNC. Text by Paula Z. Segal and #whOWNSpace legal team.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Defending Public Space - Liberty Plaza Opens Up

Image showing stacked barricades from the Village Voice article "The Re-Occupation of Zuccotti Park"
 On December 15th, 2011 #whOWNSpace launched an effort to #occupyDOB by asking you to send them a reminder about the rules regarding Privately Owned Public Spaces and their accessibility. Over 100 individuals responded to our call and submitted complaints of non-compliance to the NYC  Department of Buildings. After weeks of pressuring city hall, with your support, this week #whOWNSpace was joined in our effort to open up public space by three of the leading civil rights organizations: the New York Civil Liberties Union, The Center for Constitutional Rights, and National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter.  Together they urged the city to halt restrictions to Liberty (Zuccotti) Plaza.

Yesterday, January 10th, 2012, the city removed the barriers around Liberty Plaza and opened up the space once again for public use. We are happy and proud to have brought attention to this issue resulting in prompt action by the city. We are already looking at other public spaces, privately owned and otherwise, to work on similar campaigns. Our goal is to uphold the rules that protect public open spaces (parks, plazas, etc...) so that they are accessible and open for use by all -- regardless of ownership.

Although the barricades are down, we are continuing an effort to understand why they were up in the first place. We are awaiting a response -- due Tuesday -- from the NYPD to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request about their internal communications regarding the barricades

Press for #occupyDOB:
The Re-Occupation of Zuccotti Park (Village Voice, 01.10.12)
Groups: Barricades at NYC ex-Occupy camp illegal (Wall Street Journal - Associated Press, 01.09.12)
You're Now (Sort of) Free to Enter Zuccotti Park (Atlantic Cities, 01.03.12)