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Occupy Wall Street Raises Questions About Privately-Owned Public Spaces

The ongoing occupation protests in New York have raised questions about privately-owned public spaces.

In light of the Occupy Wall Street movement taking round-the-clock possession of the Brookfield Properties-owned Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is trying to change the rules governing the operation of privately owned public spaces (POPS) to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future. But it looks like in this battle the law might not be on REBNY’s side.

While the debate about the protesters’ right to camp out in the park has been at times framed as a freedom of speech issue, REBNY President Steven Spinola says that as far as his organization is concerned, Occupy Wall Street has as much right to voice its concerns in Zuccotti Park as in any other public space.

Instead, REBNY members are taking issue with whether or not the protesters have the right to camp out in the park 24/7, preventing members of the general public from enjoying what is meant to be a quiet recreation space and potentially causing disturbance to nearby residents.

While the city has pursued the creation of POPS to provide New Yorkers with a bit of greenery and open access space in a high-density environment, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been using Zuccotti Park as a 24/7 stakeout, with hundreds of people sleeping on the property at night. The park’s owner Brookfield Properties has warned that over the past few weeks conditions at the park became unsanitary because it has not been able to clean the property thoroughly.

A spokesperson for Brookfield declined to comment on the matter.

REBNY, however, plans to request that the New York Department of City Planning change POPS’s hours of operation from 24/7 to a more curtailed schedule, with the privately owned spaces closing at midnight or 1:00 a.m., similar to public parks.

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