Thursday, May 19, 2005

Who needs the "Freedom Tower" anymore?

When the World Trade Center was built in the early 1970s, it was part of a revitalization plan for lower Manhattan. The thinking was that if you build lots more office space down there, the economy would flourish. Looking back, those who argued that we’d be better off with more affordable housing in order to revive the area were right. Lower Manhattan is doing fine now, but the World Trade Center really didn’t do a whole lot to help, since all it did was contribute to a glut of office space in New York—office space taken up by people who largely commute to the city rather than actually live in it.

It’s true that much of the Twin Towers was empty. I don’t have any percentages, but there were whole floors that they couldn’t find tenants for. I heard a piece on NPR some years ago about how some kind souls had arranged for some of these empty floors to be granted as studio space for artists who couldn’t afford studio space, but even so, there was plenty of empty room in the Twin Towers and throughout Manhattan itself.

When those three buildings in the World Trade Center came down on September 11, plenty of the remaining office space in New York filled up. On the east side of Jersey City, which lies directly across the river from the World Trade Center, office buildings sprang up at a faster rate than they had been. That section of Jersey City has earned the nickname “Wall Street West,” due to all the financial offices that are now located there.

This “Freedom Tower” crap is crap. I have no problem with a memorial park down there, and I’m all for rebuilding some of the office space. But we don’t need any sort of sappy freedom-themed skyscraping collection of pipecleaners poking out of lower Manhattan. The reason there was all that fuss over it and the reason for that cheesy “groundbreaking” there last summer was to help Bush run on his “I’m fighting the terrorists” bluster-based campaign. Plenty of sound and fury, signifying nothing—whether they build this hokey waste of space or not.

It’s been nearly four years since those towers came down, and the most significant change in New Yorkers’ attitudes toward them seems to be that no one complains about how ugly they thought they were anymore. There’s also no great clamoring for a “Freedom Tower” to be built on that site among New Yorkers—though no one seems to be suffering from want of office space, either.

Donald Trump is a jackass who’s done more to hurt New York’s distinct art deco look than any other crass, grasping real estate mogul, but I have to agree with him on his assessment of the 1,776-foot (oh, please) Freedom (oh, please again) Tower. Now that the Bush campaign has squeezed all it could out of the fanfare over this would-be memorial, and now that Governor Pataki is in one of the most profound political tailspins in memory, I have a hunch this waste of space won’t come to be. I’d be okay with a seventy-storey pair of towers built on the site; I think that would suit the needs of everyone.

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