If you think back to the halcyon days of fall 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was still in full swing, you may recall a big debate about public space and free speech that ignited tensions between the Bloomberg administration and protesters in Zuccotti Park. OWS brought to the public's attention the fact that there are a shocking lack of protected public spaces for free speech and protest in NYC—and that is the subject of a design competition, exhibit and architectural symposium happening in Manhattan this month.

Theatrum Mundi, in partnership with the AIA New York, have launched "Designing for Free Speech," which centers around "designing spaces in NYC that stimulate the rights enshrined in the First Amendment." Applicants were asked to submit designs that proposed "architectural or performative designs (temporary or permanent) that transform spaces in New York City into places for public “demonstration.” This challenge is less about finding the ideal places for free expression than it is about re-imagining and idealizing existing spaces that have the potential for animating the public, especially spaces that are not traditionally considered in this frame."

The results are fascinating, with 40 different proposals with a huge range of ideas: Occupy Museums wants to "re-common" the Met, turning "the fountains into ritual baths, cleansing the faux-public space of the stench of Koch;" one group wants to get rid of all vehicular traffic and put public space art in Times Square; another group wants to put soapboxes in Duffy Square, ala Hyde Park; someone wants to convert the stairs of the New York Public Library (looking at the 5th Avenue) into a stage for public speech; another wants to convert the area near the Bedford L train station into a 'bike flock hub.'

Then there are the more mobile ideas, like the team that wants to inflate an interview tent, and conduct a short interview from inside of it; or the group that wants to send a pop-up soapbox around the city; or the designers who want to transmit “free speech” live via a Skype-based system on cabs, trains and other vehicles.

And that rundown barely scratches the surface of the variety of ideas. You can peruse (and vote on) all the submissions at their website here.

In addition to the ideas competition, there is also a simpatico program entitled "Open to the Public: Civic Space Now" at the Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place. The exhibit opens on June 12th and runs through September 6th; and there is a symposium on the subject all day next Saturday, June 14th.