"The radical act of the terrorists opens a space for us to think radically as well," Michael Sorkin, director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at City College, writing in a special issue of the Sunday mazagine section of The New York Times that was published on 11 November 2001.
Though this may be hard for some to believe, especially in these sentimental times, the so-called Twin Towers at the World Trade Center were hated by many New Yorkers, who before September 11, 2001 would have been happy if the goddamned things had never been built and after September 11th are glad that they're gone. An entire neighborhood was emptied out and destroyed to make way for them. Them -- not just one spectacular tower, but two. And this in a city known for singularities and differences, not repetitions and resemblances! Those weirdly self-referential monoliths completely blocked the sunlight from getting through; they blocked the view of the sun setting over New Jersey. Their reflective, steel-belted surfaces played havoc with radio and TV broadcasts, which meant that broadcasters were forced to move their transmitters (they had little choice but to put the transmitters atop one of the towers). Unlike the modestly tall buildings at Rockefeller Center, which are surrounded by an "extroverted" or open space through which pedestrian traffic can move freely, the freakishly tall Twin Towers were surrounded by a blank, abstract space that was "introverted" and closed off. Fully twice the size of the buildings around them, the towers were in fact so excessively large that the only place one could escape them and see New York City's famous skyline without distraction was on top of one of them!
Built for an enormous amount of money between 1966 and 1970 by the Port Authority of the State of New York, the Twin Towers were intended to house in one complex a great many foreign financial institutions and to provide everything that their managers, employees and clients might need (hotels, restaurants, shops, movie theaters, etc. etc). Despite the novelty of being the tallest buildings in the world -- a distinction that only lasted until 1976, when the Sears Tower was built in Chicago -- the Twin Towers were always money-losers as rental properties and required huge subsidies (tens of millions of dollars a year) from the State of New York to remain solvent. Because all of the windows in both towers were sealed up tight, and because neither tower was equipped to take advantage of its unique potential to generate power using the wind or solar energy, the WTC complex was ludicrously costly to heat and light. Furthermore, visiting business men and women weren't satisfied to remain within the WTC's purportedly self-sufficient universe, and wished to venture (and shop and do business) outside of it. In the 1980s, advances in information and telecommunication technologies decentralized the financial markets, which in turn "rolled back" the necessity for foreign institutions to be in close physical proximity to each other, Wall Street and the rest of lower Manhattan, which is precisely what the gigantic size and centralized location of the Twin Towers were intended to provide.
In New York City, obsolete buildings are infrequently saved, whatever their historical or architectural interest. Most often, they are simply torn down and replaced. The only thing that saved the Twin Towers from demolition was the fact that they were filled with asbestos, which would be released into the air if the buildings were destroyed by controlled explosions. In 2000, the Port Authority calculated that it would cost $1 billion -- i.e., much more money than the Port Authority could afford to spend -- to remove the asbestos before the buildings were destroyed. And so the Port Authority was stuck with the Twin Towers, that is, until 26 April 2001, when it found a consortium of business interests (Westfield America, led by Larry Silverstein, the owner of the building at 7 World Trade Center) that was willing to lease the property. Supposed to last for 99 years, the $3.2 billion lease mandated that the Port Authority continue to pay taxes on the property. "This is a dream come true," Silverstein said at the 23 July 2001 celebration of the lease's signing. "We will be in control of a prized asset, and we will seek to develop its potential, raising it to new heights."
And so, quite paradoxically, the mass-murdering hijackers who destroyed the Twin Towers by flying fully fueled passenger airplanes into them did Westfield America an immense favor. Even though Westfield America would obviously have preferred that both the planes and the buildings were unoccupied (save for the hijackers themselves) at the time that the former were used to destroy the latter, the terrorists got rid of the towers quickly, efficiently -- the towers fell down instead of over -- and in such a way that Westfield America didn't have to pay for any of it, including the asbestos, which was "removed" from the site by the wind, the rain and the search-and-rescue teams employed by the City of New York in the months after the buildings exploded, collapsed and gave off thick clouds of toxic dust.
There has been a lot of speculation about the facts that both towers collapsed and were utterly destroyed by the airplanes. Most of these "conspiracy theories" are weakened or completely undermined by the ignorance of their authors. One of the most-widely circulated conspiracy theories claims that,
According to the official story (pre-written and rushed into print in the mainstream media immediately after the events, together with the identity of the alleged culprit) the fires then caused the steel girders to melt and the towers to collapse. But [...] the towers did not collapse because of the plane impacts and the fires. Possibly (but not certainly) explosives were placed besides their structural supports in the upper levels of the towers, explosives which were detonated 45 to 90 minutes after the planes hit, bringing the towers down in controlled implosions, killing several thousand American citizens and others. The Twin Towers were designed to survive the impact of a large airplane. Had one of them collapsed, that would have been amazing. That both of them collapsed, quickly and completely into fragments, ash and dust -- with no remains of their central vertical steel columns left standing -- solely as a result of the plane impacts and the resulting fires, is, upon examination, unbelievable. [Emphasis added.]
The writer overlooks the obvious: it was the fully filled fuel tanks in the airplanes -- not the impact of the planes upon the buildings, which were indeed designed to withstand the impact of "a large airplane," though that hypothetical airplane was not conceived of as a fuel-carrying missile -- that caused the explosions and fires that ultimately brought both towers down. The steel girders didn't "melt": the fires caused them to expand. The fires were in fact so intense -- and, no doubt, the physical and chemical properties of the steel were such -- that the steel girders expanded so much that they brought the buildings down by twisting and pulling their frames completely out of shape, starting from the top. Other than the fuel tanks, no "explosives" were needed.
As a matter of fact, several central vertical steel columns were left standing after the towers collapsed. Indeed, a whole group of them remained standing until several months after the attacks, when they were finally taken down as part of the effort to clear the entire site of debris. If there is any "conspiracy" here, it concerns the fact that then-NYC-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ordered the speedy removal and burial in a landfill of all of the structural steel members found at the site. (The normal practice at such sites is to preserve these members, because they may contain important and otherwise impossible to find clues as to the cause of the building's collapse and the methods by which such collapses might be prevented in future.) Giuliani's motivation for this highly unusual and very suspicious action was simply to prevent fire investigators from proving that the collapse of 7 World Trade Center -- which wasn't struck by one of the planes -- was in fact caused by the explosion of the fuel tank that Giuliani ordered installed in the building so that his prized "Emergency Command Center" on the 23rd floor could function, even in the event of a "disaster" that might cause the building's electricity to be cut off. According to a report published in The New York Times on 20 December 2001,
Fire Department officials warned the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1998 and 1999 that a giant diesel fuel tank for the mayor's $13 million command bunker in 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story high-rise that burned and collapsed on Sept. 11, posed a hazard and was not consistent with city fire codes [...] Although the city made some design changes to address the concerns -- moving a fuel pipe that would have run from the tank up an elevator shaft, for example -- it left the tank in place. But the Fire Department repeatedly warned that a tank in that position could spread fumes throughout the building if it leaked, or, if it caught fire, could produce what one Fire Department memorandum called "disaster."
And so, not only did Giuliani deliberately violate the city's fire codes, but he also destroyed evidence of his crime. "Person of the Year"? No way! "Criminal of the Year"? Quite possibly.
The site of the disaster is the size of 16 football fields. What should be done with it, once it has been "cleaned up" (if clean-up is indeed possible)? In the words of Museum of Modern Art curator Terence Riley, quoted in the magazine section of the 11 November 2001 issue of The New York Times,
The analogy of the Chicago fire is important. What happened there is that a lot of wood structures burned down. And in their place, of course, wood structures were not put up. The city became a sort of testing ground, the laboratory for the development of the [steel-framed] American skyscaper. So let's imagine that New York can become a laboratory right now -- a laboratory of what?
Some have called for the site to become a laboratory for the testing of New York City's ability to recover from the attack and/or refusal to be intimidated by it: they want to re-build the Twin Towers or at least another World Trade Center worthy of the name. Others have proposed making the site a laboratory for the testing of New York City's ability to mourn and honor the people who were killed: and so they want to build some kind of a memorial. Some think a monument should be at the center of this memorial; others think that there should be no monument at all, just open, green space, perhaps a park of some kind.
Re-build the Tower(s) of Babel? No, that would be callous and hubristic. Consecrate a memorial? No, it would inevitably turn the mourners who visited it into spectators; in any event, we already spend too much time contemplating the past and the loss of our innocence.
The New York Psychogeographical Association sees only one viable option: turn the site into a huge community garden that would be open to the public twenty-four hours a day and year-round. All kinds of flowers, fruits and vegetables would be cultivated. (The produce could be divided among the gardeners, sold to pay for expenses and/or donated to soup kitchens.) Unlike memorials or parks, which do not change after their creation, gardens are living, growing things. A garden at the old WTC would provide a unique opportunity for mourners, tourists and city residents -- some of whom who might never have cultivated a garden -- to roll up their sleeves and get to work, pulling up weeds, planting seeds, doing anything that might need to be done. There would be no contemplation, nor separation from the land: just collective action towards a common goal. Not only would such a garden be good for the bodies and spirits of the people who visit and/or work it, but it would also be good for the ecology of Manhattan. The birds would return and sing once again.
There's only one person for the job of Head Gardener, and that's Adam Purple, the creator and principal cultivator of The Garden of Eden (pictured above). Located in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Eden was begun on abandoned city-owned lots in 1973 and continued to grow and expand (in concentric circles) as the neighborhood deteriorated further. In 1986, the garden was seized and bulldozed. With typical cynicism, the City built a retirement home in its place.
Unlike every other community garden ever cultivated in New York City, Eden was circular in shape. At its center was a large doubled or "squared" Yin-and-Yang symbol. According to Adam, the City of New York had to destroy Eden eventually, and not because it needed the land on which the garden was growing (it didn't), but because the centric energy emanating from its vortex was disturbing Manhattan's entire rectilinear grid system. Though it may sound as if he's reaching for an explanation, surely Adam's got a point. The grid system is so pervasive and so engrained in the minds and habits of New Yorkers that it is rarely questioned, indeed, rarely even thought about, except during the most extraordinary circumstances. And so, even though there were a lot of other factors involved in the decision to seize and destroy The Garden of Eden, its distinctive shape somehow implicated or unsettled the grid system, which evidently could allow no challenge to its rigid organization of the city's space.
Today, 15 years after Eden's destruction, the pendulum has swung to the other side. It is the grid system -- or, rather, its ultimate expression (the sky-high stack of boxes known as the World Trade Center) -- that has been attacked and damaged. Rather than trying to save it, we should deliver a knock-out blow and get rid of the grid system permanently. And there could be no better way -- no way that could be more poetically just -- than by replacing the destroyed Twin Towers with a new Garden of Eden.
-- the New York Psychogeographical AssociationOriginally written 30 November 2001
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