By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The public is restricted from accessing more than 23 acres in Lower Manhattan because of security fences, bollards and police road blocks, a new study has found.
Professors from Tufts University and the University of Colorado walked every block of the Financial District and Civic Center in 2007, tracking how welcoming the open spaces were to cars and pedestrians.
They found that 15.5 acres of the Civic Center’s streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas were either limited to the public or closed. That amounted to 36 percent of the area.
In the Financial District, nearly 18 percent, or 8 acres, of public spaces were not truly public, they found.
“Psychologically, it’s crippling,” said Jan Lee, a leader of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. “People don’t understand the psychological impact of living in a community that’s locked down…. It takes a toll. It reminds you you’re in danger.”
Jeremy Nemeth, director of the Urban Design Program at University of Colorado, and Justin Hollander, an assistant professor at Tufts, rated each space in their study on physical access, surveillance and mobility within the space. They only called a space “open” if there were no impediments or security personnel.
Examples of closed public spaces, in 2007 and now, include the streets around the New York Stock Exchange and the plaza in front of City Hall. The court and government buildings in the Civic Center close off much more public space than the private business buildings in the Financial District, the study found.
“Few open public spaces remain for the hundreds of thousands of workers and residents who live in or near Civic Center and the Financial District,” Nemeth and Hollander wrote in their study, called “Security Zones and New York City’s Shrinking Public Space.”
"With less public space remaining, city workers and dwellers have fewer opportunities for interaction and political expression: the very vitality of the city is put at risk.”
On the other hand, Nemeth noted one silver lining: Some of the security measures have arguably improved spaces by making them more pedestrian friendly.
Several years after Broad Street was closed to traffic near the Stock Exchange, the city recently made it into a cobblestone plaza, with cafe-style seating. And rather than using police trucks and cars to block off intersections on Wall Street and Broad Street, the city installed sculptural bronze bollards last year.
Ro Sheffe, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, said the changes make the neighborhood feel less like it’s “on lockdown."
Still, Sheffe cautioned that the rapidly growing Financial District cannot afford to lose any more space to security measures.
“We need all the publicly accessible space we can get,” Sheffe said. “We need more, not less.”