Blog #26 – Imagine Actually Occupying Wall Street – A Proposal


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?

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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”

5 thoughts on “Blog #26 – Imagine Actually Occupying Wall Street – A Proposal

  1. I am all for the proposal and I hope it does come about. But to take it to the next level, we need to set up parallel institutions at the local level, around the globe for people to put their money in. Credit unions, state, regional and municipalbanks such as the Bank of North Dakota are what we need to put our savings and check accounts in. Eventually our IRA’s 401k’s and pensions. What if Wall St had a trading day, and no one came to sell and buy or swap stocks? It is one thing to block and occupy Wall Street, but the real power is taking their money away from them so they having nothing to play their Ponzi Scheme deals with.

  2. I’m not against the stock market per se–the real thievery that caused the crash was a result of private, unregulated financial transactions between investment banks, other investment banks, institutional investors such as pension funds, and fraudulent mortgage lenders. Stock markets, in that they are more regulated and transparent, can serve as a counterbalance to this stuff. But I agree that we need a better way to invest in business. What if every small business/startup/inventor had easy access to loans on non-usurious terms, with the capital provided by a public exchange or by banks required by their charters to invest primarily in small businesses, or angel funding for startups, or worker cooperatives, or environmentally sustainable businesses, or businesses with products that benefit the poor? What if state pension funds were required to invest only in businesses where the majority of employees live in that state?

    I will think further on this and the other issues brought up in your post, so that when this competition happens, I will have an entry.

  3. The fundamental flaw in the workings of Wall Street is that profit benefits from scarcity but the human race is always harmed by scarcity of the essentials of day to day life. Writers like Jim Kunstler view a world where scarcity is the natural state and seem to believe that it is inevitable that the world will collapse when it succumbs to these forces. But I contend that scarcity is all too often fabricated to enhance profit. We have all seen oil price manipulation and patents bought and buried to protect a profitable less efficient technology.

    The way to “Occupy Wall Street” with out having to actually occupy it is to recreate a system where reducing scarcity is rewarded instead of creating false scarcity. The first step is “decentralization” and create parallel institutions to compete with mega-business. For example, the USA generates 1.6 billion tons of organic waste per year and the science is ready to scale up right now to turn that waste into Drop in Fuels which will quickly replace our dependence on oil. Instead of fighting big oil, we have the tools to make it irreverent. Decentralized agriculture is one of the fastest growing subjects in universities today, the next generation seems to understands that we can not rely on mega-agriculture to act in the peoples interest.

    My contribution has been in the creation of Traditional Neighborhood Developments the most recent of which is mixed use, walkable, recycles 100 % of it’s waste water, and is populated with a growing number of net Zero Energy Homes that sell for less than conventional homes. We have been able to give home buyers, with advanced building techniques and solar electric panels, a cost effective means to reduce their dependence on the Utility Company and free themselves from paying money to utility companies. With the advent of the electric car, their transportation fuel.

    Without a revolution and without spilling any blood these people have mostly unplugged from mega-businesses. I am not naive enough to think that these megalithic institutions will go quietly into the night, but in the end we vote with our wallets and when we fully understand this we regain our power as a society. (GreenEnergyScaleUp.com and NewVillage.com)

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