(Photo: “Double Check” sculpture in Liberty Plaza taken by Susan Meiselas on September 12, 2001)
While a lot of noise was made on NY1 this year over the 59th Street Bridge’s new moniker, even English-speaking cabbies are good for blank stares if you suggest the Ed Koch Bridge back to Greenpoint. Whether some renamings don’t stick because the subject’s new designation is too unwieldy, too unpopular, or both is impossible to say—but the city’s history is littered with similar instances of tossed aside official nomenclature.
New Yorkers have practically made a sport of rejecting the clumsier renaming efforts since at least as far back as 1945 when Fiorello LaGuardia tried to anoint 6th Ave. with some presto-chango panache as “Avenue of the Americas.” So it’s somewhat mysterious that the ethnic sounding name of an unknown, still living corporate fixer, John Zuccotti, slipped unchallenged into the city’s lexicon, replacing Zuccotti Park’s former designation, Liberty Plaza, when the space was prettied up by its corporate sponsor, Brookfield Properties, in 2006.
(Photo: Looking west across Liberty Plaza Park towards 4 WTC)
The picture grows more ironic still when one takes into account the fact that the 33,000 sq. ft. slab of (formerly) open turf lies right across from from the soon-to-be humming World Trade Center site, and served as a rallying point during 9-11 when it (along with J. Seward Johnson’s “Double Check,” a dark bronze sculpture of an anonymous salary-man with a briefcase) was battered by tons of debris and toxic dust.
So many first responders used the space that the sheer weight of their rescue equipment cracked the plaza’s concrete foundation, leaving it a scarred, construction-fenced off ruin until 2006. That’s when Brookfield’s $8 million renovation was completed and gave it the repairs needed to reopen along with a face-lift—including the addition of Mark di Suvero’s 70-foot high red steel-beam sculpture “Joie de Vivre”; but was there really no one to tell city bosses: No offense to Brookfield chairman John Zuccotti but the name Liberty Plaza (especially when the agreed upon name for the then nascent One World Trade property was still the “Freedom Tower” and the plaza borders Liberty Street and sits across from One Liberty Plaza) should stay?
Unfortunately, during the height of the real estate boom, no one in the city with a voice was talking back to the financial-corporate-political establishment. Rechristening the park, then-governor George Pataki, surrounded by fellow luminaries such as Ed Koch, might have summed up the consensus when he announced the corporate funded makeover, “another symbol of the rebirth of downtown.”
Fast forward six years: the collapse of the real estate bubble, the Wall Street crash, the Obama intoxication—and into the current deep freeze territory where the American dream now firmly resides. “Joie de Vivre” has been police barricaded ever since October 22nd when a Canadian man climbed it and activist iconography decorates “Double Check.” Taken in a local context, the label “Zuccotti Park” might be seen as a vestige of a boom-era race by Wall Street to remake the city’s most visible semi-public landmarks in its own name with infusions of capital.
The trend, which peaked at the end of the aughts with the Mets’ new ballpark—and Madison Square Garden’s renovated smaller venue—being tagged “Citi Field” and “WaMu Theater” (scrubbed after Washington Mutual went belly-up after the crash) respectively probably isn’t dead. The city has since opened up the name of public parks and even subway stations to the highest corporate bidder.
To hundreds of protesters now huddled in the plaza, the name “Zuccotti Park” is a broad reminder that corporate money remains wired into the discourse at all times, impossible to escape, and just how difficult it is to fight the corporate establishment when it literally names the game. To other protesters, the widespread use of the term “Zuccotti Park” represents nothing less than, in the words of Jeff Smith, a 41-year-old New Yorker in “marketing and advertising” who spends his off hours working the OWS media tent, “an attempt to delegitimize the movement.” Not putting too fine a point on it, he adds: “Zuccotti Park’s the slave name, to us it’s always Liberty Plaza.”