WTC as a symbol

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 12 15:03:57 MDT 2001


Much of the discussion in the media has revolved around how the twin
towers were symbols of New York City. Since yesterday morning I have
been a bit shell-shocked, but I am beginning to get back to my normal
analytical self. So here's a thought.

In fact, the towers were a very apt symbol of what NYC has become. As
comrades might now, my building was a "Mitchell-Lama", which meant
that it was subsidized by NY State in order to help make NYC livable
for the middle-class. After 20 years, the landlord was allowed to
take it out of the program and charge market rents. For me, this
represents at least a 300 percent increase and I will eventually have
to find a new place to live.

My building was erected in 1977, north of 86th street on the east
side in a area called Yorkville, which consisted of tenements rented
to primarily to working-class East Europeans and Germans. Just north
of the area comes Spanish Harlem. The complex it is in, called
Ruppert-Yorkville, occupies the land that the Ruppert brewery used to
sit on. This was a local beer favored by working class people.

The introduction of the building helped to begin a process of
gentrification. Now it is surrounded by high rises, renting to
yuppies who work downtown in offices close to the WTC, or in it for
that matter. As the city has become more and more oriented to FIRE
(Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), it has become whiter, more
affluent, and more aggressive. It is the New York City of Oliver
Stone's "Wall Street" rather than the NYC of my youth, which was more
polyglot, bohemian and egalitarian.

One of the key elements of the transformation of New York was the
building of the World Trade Center in an area formerly dominated by
small manufacturing and retail. The loss of such businesses meant the
loss of a working class. I used to love wandering around this
neighborhood, looking into electronics shops, bookstores, etc. Now it
nothing but granite and glass. I should say, broken granite and
glass.

===

The Columbus Dispatch, January 30,2000, Sunday

UNFLATTERING TALE OF POWER

Stanley Trachtenberg, For The Dispatch

The World Trade Center occupies 16 square blocks of lower Manhattan
in some of the world's most valuable real estate.

Its twin towers -- each 110 stories, stacked a quarter of a mile high
-- back up to the Hudson River and originally were intended as part
of an urban renewal project that would safeguard the economic health
of the region's maritime commerce.

Instead, as Eric Darton points out in Divided We Stand, an angry
account of the betrayal of a public trust, the project turned the
waterfront into speculative real estate created on the ashes of a
once thriving commercial area known as Radio Row and heavily
subsidized by the public. Darton puts the major share of blame for
this debacle on the Port Authority. Created in 1921, it was designed
to resolve acrimonious turf battles between New York and New Jersey.
Under the leadership of Port Authority Chairman Austin Tobin, in
concert with the Chase Manhattan Bank's David Rockefeller and his
brother Nelson, then governor of New York, the Port Authority
extended its mandate. The World Trade Center became the core of a
strategy to maximize real estate values by shifting from buildings
that housed low-skill, low- wage commercial tenants to high-density
buildings that housed financial services.

Darton traces the history of the center to Henry Dreyfuss'
"Democracity'' exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair, which was influenced
by architect Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier believed that the house was "a machine for living.''
Darton says "Corbusier argued that the concentration and disorder of
the modern city could be cured by increasing urban density. This
would be accomplished by erecting very tall buildings on a small
portion of the total ground area.''

Perhaps the French architect's most radical position: "There ought,''
he once wrote, "not to be such things as streets.''

The fallout of these models of modernist utopian planning yielded
Battery Park City. It was built on the landfill taken from the center
site and, Darton argues, showed more concern for aesthetics than the
human uses it would serve.

Nothing about the World Trade Center, however, fulfilled its promise.
It displaced viable communities, cost more in lost taxes and
subsidies than it returned, overburdened sewers and finally could
sustain itself only by dismantling its own assets.

Darton tells this story in a freewheeling style that attempts to
bring the impersonal building to life in lyrical sections he calls
"illuminations,'' which periodically interrupt the narrative with
accounts of his experiences while writing it.

What might have been the climax to this disorganized account -- the
1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center -- is confined to
teasing references.

Darton criticizes the dysfunctional design by architect Minoru
Yamasaki, whose Pruitt- Igoe housing in St. Louis had to be
demolished only 10 years after it was built and whose attempt to
provide human scale for the World Trade Center created instead a
sterile environment in which the soaring towers disrupted the
skyline.

The book is an ambitious effort that relies on disconnected glimpses
of political and financial hurdles. Darton fails to tie them together
in a coherent history.

Divided We Stand brings to life the changes that overtake a great
city, revealing its impatience, its capacity for spectacle and its
seemingly inexhaustible ability to entertain.

--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 09/12/2001

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