Jul 15, 2007

streets, moses, and terrorism

I took the family down to Battery Park this weekend. I haven't spent much time there and I wanted to stroll through the Wall Street area. It's one of my favorite spots in Manhattan. There's a wonderful sense of history, capitalism, but also strangely, peacefulness. It's interesting that it is adjacent to the location of the World Trade Center Towers.

Interesting because of the difference in styles of those two spots is striking. You can see in the picture below what I mean. Downtown is the old part of Manhattan. Before rectilinear street construction was used, the expansion of downtown was organic. The streets are narrow and go off at oblique angles. But just west of Wall Street is where the WTC was located. You can also see how much space those towers took up by looking at that building in the distance. Between me and that building were the WTC towers. That space comprised one superblock. There's nothing organic about that part of town. The influences of Robert Moses and Mies van der Rohe exist there. While I have a certain affection for men like Moses and Rohe, they were no friend of the city. Or people.

The WTC project removed the narrow cobbled streets and along with it, any character that part of town had. A huge mega block was created to put the buildings on top of. While the skyline benefited from the towers, the neighborhood was killed by it. It was an antiseptic spot that no one visited unless they worked there. While we romanticize the absence of the towers now, they were largely hated when they were first built. Architecture critics lamented the lack of any consideration of people into the plans.
So it's remarkable really that when the towers went down, the destruction ended with all the WTC buildings. They all went down. But nothing east of them collapsed. Not even the venerable Trinity Church which was a stone's throw from the buildings. It was almost as if the city was ridding itself of something that was alien.
Today when you walk down Nassau Street (below; NYSE on the right with the flag and the Federal Hall National Memorial building where Washington took the oath on the left) you are exactly 2 blocks away from the WTC. And you would never know it. You don't see anything. You can't smell anything. You don't hear anything. They are untouched by those towers. Both physically and philosophically.

No comments: