Public spaces are constantly changing. New regulations, changes in design, litigation outcomes, economic shifts, and new demands all affect the public nature of public space. Each of this book’s chapters described controversies that took place mainly in the 1980s and 1990s. If public space and the idea of public space are constantly in flux, do the ideas raised in these cases still hold true fifteen years later? Research and writing of this book took place between 1999 and 2005: the two years before and four years after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. How does a book on New York City written in the years after 9/11 take into account the impact of 9/11?
We should begin by asking what the phrase “after 9/11” might mean, since 9/11 refers both to a catastrophic event and to the date on which the event occurred. That the date in time was chosen to represent the event as opposed to its location—Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, Columbine—implies that life was one way before and was irrevocably another way afterward; that everything in New York was rendered instantly and totally different.
We are still trying to understand how 9/11 affected those who survived, the families of those who died, and those who worked during the arduous months of cleanup.
But how has public space in New York changed? Assigning causality to an event while its effects continue to unfold is nearly impossible. We must try to identify which changes were the direct result of the bombing of the World Trade Towers, which were the result of policies put in place in response to the bombing, and which were the result of processes put in place before 9/11. The short answer to the question is that public space in New York after 9/11 has changed not at all and completely.
If you today visited any one of the six case-study spaces, over six years after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, it would be difficult to find any differences from how they’re described in this book. We might expect the most changes at City Hall and at Jacob Javits Plaza: one site the seat of government for the city of New York, and the other the main office building for the U.S. federal government in New York. After 9/11, both were considered potential terrorist targets. Questions of security and safety were key issues in their stories and were used as justification for framing what could happen there.
At City Hall, security was used as a justification for former mayor Giuliani to limit the size of press conferences and demonstrations. At Federal Plaza, security concerns led to arguments against the presence of Tilted Arc. But both these sites look much the same today as they did during the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, before 9/11 both spaces were already under heightened security because of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and because of the bombings in Sudan and Afghanistan by the United States in 1998. The current security configuration at City Hall, put in place in 1998, closed City Hall to the public, unless you were there for a meeting or a public hearing.
Times Square has changed radically since the summer of 2001. New “spectacular” billboards and entire buildings have gone up. It has certainly not “broken-in” as Kalman thought it would; if anything, Times Square looks brighter and cleaner than ever. After 9/11, city police indicated that Times Square, like Federal Plaza and City Hall, was a potential terrorist target. We
At IBM there is a different set of sculptures on display than there was in the fall of 2001, but everything else seems the same.
Of the three POPS, Trump Tower is the only one where security visibly increased after 9/11. The men in suits, who have always stood in front of the elevators, may now check your bags. But since most people don’t realize that the elevators lead to additional public spaces (and not just the board room or Trump’s luxury suite), the additional security may not impact the use of this space or its perception as public at all.
The ongoing stories of the case-study sites show little difference in the way public spaces are conceived of, managed, and regulated after the destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC). Instead, they follow the patterns of economic, social, and political forces at work well before 9/11. But what about Ground Zero itself? Does the unfolding history of the WTC site and its redevelopment process indicate shifts in how public space is thought of, planned for, and created? Does it point to new ways in which public spaces might be the sites and subjects of active public spheres?
Certainly the potential public of the WTC is without precedent. It is diverse and enormous. If the public of the WTC includes anyone with an interest in what happens there and how it happens, then the potential public is vast, extending far beyond the survivors, the victims’ families, the people who live and work in the adjacent neighborhoods, the workers who cleared the site, New Yorkers, and Americans. The scale of the event and the global implications of the U.S. response to the attack stretch the very definition of the public to its limits.
For a time, it seemed that the WTC site—owned by a quasi government body and leased to a real estate developer—had become public through shared tragedy. As expansive as the potential and actual public of the WTC is, that public has already been framed. They have been framed by the public processes of decision making and by the design and management of the
Even a cynical observer, noting the complicated brew of public, semipublic, and private stakeholders involved and the huge sums of money at stake, might have expected that the millions of eyes watching would have prompted the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) to involve at least some fraction of those who would live with, live in, work in, pass through, and see the project. What could have been an opportunity for developing active public spheres around this place along with discussions about how built form, aesthetics, politics, and economics shape public life even in quasi public and private spaces became instead a jump to design form. The unfolding stories of redevelopment signal that the process has been guided by forces set up before 9/11—patterns of ownership and control based on values of property and rent—and these forces are so intractable that even focused public attention can do little to shift them.
If the process has defined the WTC public as nonvoting judges in an architectural beauty contest, codes of conduct that govern the site itself limit their ability to act there. In the days and months after 9/11, New Yorkers and visitors to the city made shrines out of pictures, poems, flowers, and candles that created a constellation of markers of shared grief and memory. Some who travel to the WTC site expect to see the same kind of constant outpouring, perhaps less intense with the passing of time but still there. Instead they find signs on the fences forbidding small memorials of any kind. The criminalization of spontaneous memorials framed the public as consumers rather than producers of WTC histories. We can no longer represent our own memories and questions. Instead we read the boards on the fences around Ground Zero that define what happened that day. What could possibly be of such compelling government interest that expressions of grief should be criminalized? What is it about the aesthetic experience of these places—one as a neighborhood of small memorials and tokens, and one as a construction site with an already completed history—that makes them wholly incompatible?
The Port Authority has divided the site into locations where expressive activity is allowed. If you are part of a group of twenty-five or more people, you must submit in person an application for a permit for an expressive activity no more than seven days before and no less than thirty-six hours before the expressive activity is to take place. All participants must wear badges that
The case-study sites themselves remain largely unchanged since 9/11. The processes that frame the WTC public are reminiscent of those processes at work in the case-study sites. It would seem that nothing about public space in New York has changed since 9/11. But in another way, everything about public space has changed since 9/11—at the WTC site, the case-study sites, and all over the United States. Six weeks after the destruction of the WTC towers, the public and therefore public space in New York and across the country was completely transformed. This transformation was not a direct result of the destruction of the WTC towers; rather, it was the direct result of laws enacted as part of the Patriot Act.
The possibility of public spaces becoming the sites and subjects of active public spheres has narrowed because we the public have been fundamentally altered. Active public spheres require accountability to function; the Patriot Act strips government accountability from what were Americans’ most fundamental rights. The Patriot Act compromises rights to speech, association, privacy, and due process. People can be imprisoned indefinitely without being formally charged. Phone calls, e-mails, bank records, library records, medical histories, travels, Internet usage, and the contents of homes and offices are no longer private. The Patriot Act public is framed by the law itself and by the rhetoric backing it up. If people have nothing to hide, why should they be concerned about being watched? Such concern, in the rhetoric of “protection,” belies guilt.
The Patriot Act thwarts efforts to remake public spaces by practicing democracy. Police officers now disguise themselves as protesters, carrying signs and shouting slogans. They carry two-way radios in backpacks and videotape crowds while marching as demonstrators. They not only gather information on people participating in the demonstrations, but in at least one case, their actions have directly influenced what happened at an event. During the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, an undercover police officer infiltrated a march that was organized in support of poor and homeless people. When the officer was “arrested,” onlookers shouted,
Professional landscape architects and urban designers come under increased scrutiny in the post-9/11 security state. Our very work is suspect. We are on FBI lists of “scientific and technological experts” whose presence at U.S. border crossings triggers special checks. Our knowledge of cities and urban infrastructure, our ability to read plans and interpret spaces make us potentially dangerous. The fact that our knowledge base is considered potentially criminal should give designers pause to consider what we are capable of, to take seriously our power to shape public spaces and publics, and to rethink the way we imagine, represent, and create new urban futures.