Politics & Policy

Mr. Mayor, Tear Down Those Tents

Hoovervilles, the unfortunately named shantytowns that dotted the country during the Depression, were places of desperation. But the tent city (Obamaville?) that has sprung up in Zuccotti Park is something else altogether. Most of its residents aren’t homeless, merely shiftless, and instead of sleeping in shacks of scavenged tin and board situated between the city’s fringe and the nearest soup kitchen, the Occupy Wall Street campers are famously well-fed, live in a desirable neighborhood, and sleep in high-end camp gear we can only assume was purchased from the dread corporations.

The occupiers have made themselves so thoroughly at home that their village boasts named thoroughfares. Here, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Trotsky Alley [sic], one can find not only a glorious nexus of historical illiteracy and irony-proof earnestness, but a living, breathing blight: barricades and booming drums, the hum of generators and the smell of burning fuel, respect for the conventions of hygiene that is uneven at best, and increasingly, the threat of theft, assault, and even rape.

As an old friend of Trotsky’s might ask: What is to be done?

To be sure, the protesters’ First Amendment rights should be respected — during the waking hours, and given the appropriate permits, they should be allowed to peaceably protest until Trotsky himself rises like Lazarus from the grave. But so too should the laws of the land, the rights of the property owners in Lower Manhattan, and the exigencies of reality be respected. To that end the city of New York should raze the tent city in Zuccotti Park and close the space each night, so that the area might be effectively cleaned and efficiently policed, and so that the occupied might get some sleep, too.

The more difficult question is how to accomplish this. It is plain that the occupiers are breaking the park’s posted rules, which explicitly prohibit “camping and/or the erection of tents or other structures” and loitering in a way that “interferes with the use of” the park by others. It is also clear that their continued presence is a magnet for grift and violence and a growing threat to public safety. Though the park’s owner, Brookfield Office Properties, is required, per the original development deal with the city, to keep Zuccotti open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, city zoning code does contain provisions whereby it can move to shut it down if that “closing is necessary for public safety.” If the political will existed, the eviction of the occupiers could thus be undertaken righteously. But the political class’s early decision to indulge the OWS set and the park’s ambiguous public/private status have Brookfield and Mayor Bloomberg deferring to each other. Bloomberg’s line has been that he can’t enforce the rules unless Brookfield asks him to. Brookfield’s line has been that they will follow the mayor’s lead.

And what of the residents and business owners around Zuccotti? Thus far, the members of Community Board 1, who nominally represent them, have been less than robust in addressing the situation: By a vote of 33–3 the board passed a flowery resolution in support of the squatters, and the greatest concession it has managed to secure in ongoing talks with the umpteen “working groups” at OWS is an informal agreement that the latter’s infamous percussionists would limit their drumming to a few hours each day. The obsequiousness has to this point continued up the line: Lower Manhattan’s city councilwoman, assemblyman, and state senator, along with borough president Scott Stringer, and even U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler have for weeks presented a united front in hedging between representing the concerns of their constituents and flattering the gauzy generalities of a group of no-account out-of-towners.

The good news is that, even as we write, there are signs the stakeholders in Liberty Plaza are realizing the folly of mollycoddling the occupiers. Bloomberg, for his part, has mixed into his noncommittal rhetoric a hint of something stiffer, warning that he could soon “take actions” to prevent the occupiers from further “hurting small businesses and families” in the neighborhood. And at their most recent meeting, one member of Community Board 1 expressed her exasperation over ongoing negotiations with the occupiers: “We have had twelve meetings with them, and now we’ve given up.”

It is within each party’s power — the community board, the mayor, Brookfield — to begin the process of evicting the occupiers. It matters not who makes the first move, so long as the last move is the striking of the tents along Trotsky Alley.


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