Occupy Wall Street has been taking up most of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for nearly one calendar month now. Similar protests spread around the world, and in some cities this weekend, regulations seemed to conflict with what protesters believed was their right to freely assemble. A potential crisis was averted on Friday morning, when the owners of the park delayed a scheduled evacuation and cleaning. In other locations like Denver, at least some of the protesters were evicted this weekend, in part due to maintenance issues arising from continuous occupation.
It had also seemed that Occupy Buffalo was going to have difficulty staying in the park through Saturday, October 15th (dubbed a Day of Action for Occupiers around the world) for conflict with a diabetes walk down the street at Coca-Cola Field, but their permit was extended.
Some have questioned what it means now for the 20th century trend of publicly-accessible privately-owned parks like Zuccotti. Its owners, real estate company Brookfield, had intended to have the grounds power-washed, but called off the plans about 8 hours in advance “for a short period of time” at the request of “a number of local political leaders.” Lower Manhattan is not exactly a natural resource in the way that half of Wyoming is, but New York City’s city- and state-owned parks share similar property usage questions as do federal parks. Privately-owned public parks challenge how municipalities can regulate, and what kind of easements are granted or can be revoked for usage when they seem “out of hand” to some political bodies. A control on certain kinds of speech is not a state action, but in many areas where public access is relatively open, like colleges’ academic malls, a wide degree of freedom to access and use has been afforded to students and others. See generally Roberts v. Haragan 2004 WL 2203130 (N.D. Tex. 2004), wherein a law student was seeking to protest in his desired location at Texas Tech, a public university.
In a less contentious and more ecologically-conscious realm, some more scientific blogs and sanitation-related sites have looked at the greener efforts of and complications to come about from Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Buffalo seems to be conscious of efforts to keep the park clean and maintain – in one way – a low profile down at Niagara Square, surmising from Facebook posts urging participants to not litter. Occupy Wall Street has a “working sanitation group” that has been ensuring regular cleanup, operating a greywater system to water some of the foliage, thus quelling some of the concerns of Brookfield and Mayor Bloomberg. With no end to the “Occupy” movement in sight and yet the potential for a sudden change at any administrative decision, legal thinkers, as well as the likes of civil engineers, and perhaps judges will be considering new usage questions.