Security zones and New York City’s shrinking public space

Németh, J. & Hollander, J.

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Németh, J., & Hollander, J. (2010). Security zones and New York City’s shrinking public space. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34(1), 20–34.

New York City , Public Space , Security , Security Zones

Urban scholars lament the loss of public space due to heightened security and behavioral controls borne of economic priorities and anti‐terror concerns after September 11th 2001. Owners and managers of government buildings, banks and courthouses have closed streets and fitted the surrounding space with concrete barriers, bollards and moat‐like structures to prevent potential terror attacks. These are reasonable protections in emergency situations, but, as threat levels fall, these zones fail to incorporate a diversity of users, privatizing the space for those with security clearance. The ubiquity of these zones encourages us to consider them as a new type of land use. To test this statement, we describe the results of site visits to two high‐profile New York City neighborhoods (one with numerous civic buildings, the other populated with corporate headquarters). Using a simple tool we developed, we find that 27% of aggregate non‐building area in the two districts is now in a security zone. Interestingly, the percentage of space within each district that can be classed as a security zone is reasonably similar, providing insight into the way in which terror targets are internally and externally defined and justified. We argue that this new type of land use is an important and permanent feature of twenty‐first century global cities.

Main finding
Using methods to measure the degree of publicness, the authors find obvious decreases in the public realm in both Civic Center and Financial District areas of Lower Manhattan. Security zones were evidenced as a new type of land use and most of the security zones observed contained symbolic, overt and temporary security measures. The size and severity of security zones in Civic Center and Financial District were significant, 36.3% and 17.7% of total public space respectively.

Description of method used in the article
Field observations were used to develop new tool to frequently measure 'security zones'. The empirical study used a simple tool to classify security zones (a matrix defining access, surveillance and mobility along dimensions of closed, limited, open) and GIS. The two researchers walked the areas and took extensive notes in their observations using the tool to classify space as open, limited or closed; third researcher reviewed classifications.

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