Blog #26 – Imagine Actually Occupying Wall Street – A Proposal DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT
If the purpose of re-imagining the city is to stimulate understanding and appreciation of what the actual possibilities might be for a city of heart’s desire, and to move the uncommitted to join in the struggle to achieve such a city, then perhaps there is a very concrete and visible activity that might provoke action in that direction.
The concern of the Occupy Wall Street movement is specifically to foster action, and the adoption of “Occupy Wall Street” as its name indicates the movements analysis of the road-block to success: Wall Street, as symbolic of the power of financial institutions and the 1% they coordinate over the lives of the 99%. But the name is meant symbolically; at the most, the movement has occupied spaces already largely public, near the financial district but not displacing any financial activity by its presence. At best, demonstrations on Wall Street itself have been limited, short-lived, and tightly controlled by the police. And this is perhaps as far as, today, realistically, the movement can go in actually, literally, “occupying Wall Street.”
But why not spell out what actually “occupying wall street” might look like, as a way of highlighting what the alternatives to it are. Why not use imagination in fact to picture what a street like Wall Street might look like if it were actually occupied by the 99%, if what was done there was replaced by activities better serving the broad public interest? Imagine the buildings of Wall Street as they are now but devoted to advancing the goal of a city of the heart’s desire. What would they be like?
Well, why not have a design competition to answer that question? Suppose the assignment were to imagine the trading floor of the Stock Exchange as the meeting place for the General Assembly of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Imagine if the offices in the Stock Exchange were to be allocated to Occupy Wall Street’s many Working Groups and spin-offs. Imagine the lobby and accessible spaces turned over to Occupy Sandy as a storage and distribution center for food and blankets for the victims of Sandy, and kept as a an available resource for other disasters?1 Imagine the incredible high-speed computers of the stock exchange made available to civic organizations for social networking and information on present campaigns and planned actions. What would Wall Street, and the Stock Exchange building, look like when put to these different uses?
But why limit the re-imagination of existing city spaces only to Wall Street itself? Why not reimagine 1 World Trade Center, the erstwhile “Freedom Tower,” and make it truly representative of our vision of a free and just society by converting it into supportive housing for the homeless, changing it from use by the richest and most powerful members of our society to a symbol of our concern for the least well off and most powerless? Perhaps, if the homeless were all thereafter provided permanent homes elsewhere, Wall Street might serve as a publicly-supported giant hostel or family hotel for visitors to the city who cannot afford the luxury hotels abounding elsewhere in the district – reflecting the concerns we have for the strangers in our midst?
Goldman Sachs has just finished building a $2.4 billion building in Battery Park City, adjacent to the World Trade Center site, as its investment banking headquarters. What is worked on there will undoubtedly have a major impact, not only on the financial sector and the economy as a whole, but also on public policies affecting both the 1% and the 99%. Suppose the building were re-imagined to serve the purposes of participatory decision-making by all segments of the 100%? Suppose rooms and office sites were assigned to community groups, groups advocating for the poor, minorities, the powerless, as well as to business and trade groups, to think tanks for groups across the political and ideological spectrum? Suppose executive dining rooms were to be eliminated, and instead cafeterias were provided for workers from all the different offices – perhaps with tables designed to maximize meeting strangers? Perhaps a health club, similarly designed? Perhaps the Chase Manhattan tower would offer another similar opportunity, if the demand exceeded what the Goldman Sachs building could accommodate – although Goldman Sachs alone is to accommodate 11,000 workers in 43 floors? Universities are constantly struggling for space for expansion. How about a competition for turning the new Bank of America building on 42nd street over to the City University of New York, and inviting other educational institutions from around the five boroughs to share the space?
One could imagine this as a design competition, along the lines of a conventional architectural competition, with a prominent jury, a foundation-donated prize, wide-spread publicity and exhibitions and conferences on the results. If star architects are too involved with clients who might not appreciate the effort, perhaps schools of architecture and planning might be hosts to studios and projects to be entered in the competition, and the as yet unconstrained imagination of students marshaled in its execution?
And, theoretically, it could not only be a competition for physical designers, but perhaps also for economists and sociologists and planners. And not only as to the new uses imagined for the places, but also as to the impact of displacing their present uses. Economists might consider how investment decisions could be made if we didn’t have a stock exchange, political scientists how public decisions could be made absent the power of mighty lobbyists. Sociologists might explore what the resultant mixing of users might suggest and how it might be made most productive.
Such a competition, or competitions, should not be so difficult to organize. And if one is serious about wanting to bring about a better world, one of heart’s desire, why not concretely imagine what it would look like with the physical spaces that we have already built up in our cities?
1. Occupy Sandy might be asked about their space needs. They have put out a request for help:
“Occupy Sandy needs a new multi-purpose space to be used similarly to how Jacobi and 520 have been used for the past month. Please use your networks to help us expand our options. The needs are: roll-in/out capability, meeting and intake space, proximity to transit, accessibility to recovery sites, internet access or potential to install, key access, office and communications hub space, bathrooms, positive community relationships, parking/wide streets, clean, safe and healthy. Please respond immediately with any leads about spaces. Contact is: OSSpaces@gmail.com”