FROM THE BOSTON GLOBE:
Public access a point of debate with WTC designs
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 12/20/2002
NEW YORK - Promenades, plazas, and terraced gardens are integral parts of the nine proposals for rebuilding the World Trade Center site that were unveiled Wednesday, because the competing architects all agreed on one thing: Ground zero should become a public space, accessible to New Yorkers and visitors alike.
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday's event, however, there have been several flare-ups over public access to plazas and courtyards that developers have built in the last 40 years, leading some to caution that whatever is built at the World Trade Center site must be diligently monitored to keep public areas open to all.
''As inspirational as the imagined public spaces may be, the record on privately provided spaces in New York City hasn't exactly been encouraging,'' said Jerold Kayden, author of the book, ''Privately Owned Public Space,'' an examination of more than 500 such plazas, courtyards, and atriums.
A 1961 zoning law allowed developers in New York City to build extra stories on buildings in return for providing public space, usually at and around the base of the buildings. But Kayden, a professor at the Harvard Design School, found that many of the spaces had been roped off or built on, in violation of the original development agreements.
The city has issued scores of legal actions and levied tens of thousands of dollars in fines against building managers who have not kept those areas open to the public. But battles over several public spaces have continued to this day, including such prominent places as the ritzy fashion accessories store Henri Bendel's, the General Motors Plaza, and Le Cirque 2000 restaurant.
The area just inside the front door of Henri Bendel's, at 712 Fifth Ave., is filled with racks and glass display cases and salespeople, but is a public atrium.
The General Motors Plaza between East 58th and 59th streets on Fifth Avenue, was created as a public space in return for permission to make the building bigger. CBS regularly schedules special events and television programs on a portion of the plaza, including the Sunday ''NFL Today'' pregame show, where former quarterbacks and commentators prognosticate on the games of the day around an outdoor table. The hotel next door has filed a lawsuit complaining about the noise, but Kayden says the space is not supposed to be closed off to the public in the first place.
The hotel housing Le Cirque 2000, on the east side of Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st streets, is trying to work out a deal to keep some tables and chairs in an adjacent courtyard that is supposed to be kept open for public access. The situation is typical of what Kayden calls ''brasserie bulge'' and ''cafe creep,'' the incursion of private uses on public space.
A new group, called Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space, has been formed to monitor these spaces, under the auspices of the Municipal Arts Society, which collaborated on Kayden's book.
The World Trade Center site redevelopment will differ from other private building vs. public space situations, because the memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will be completely open to the public. While some teams of designers suggested separate memorial areas for victims' families, the parks, gardens, museums, and cultural institutions proposed for the site would have unfettered public access.
But several of the designs called for elevated gardens and public spaces high in the proposed towers, which will be built by private developers. Visitors may be required to pass through office-building lobbies to get to those spaces and could face the added hassle of security as well. Some expect that private events will occasionally be scheduled in some of the new spaces, similar to the fashion shows held at Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, which was redeveloped using private funds.
Velvet ropes were set up for the unveiling of the World Trade Center design competition itself, in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center, a public space created by the developers of the complex.
''I don't want to rain on the parade, but there has to be vigilance and monitoring'' whenever private developers provide public space, increasingly the norm as public funding for major spaces like Central Park continues to dwindle, Kayden said. ''To design is human, to enforce and follow up, divine.''
Anthony Flint can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 12/20/2002.
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