Lower Manhattan is turning into an armored security zone.
Antiterrorist paraphernalia litter parts of nine square blocks, or at least a dozen acres -- all to protect the New York Stock Exchange from attacks.
Where Broadway opens to Wall Street, jaw-like truck barriers and a plastic-tent guard booth block the street. A fence squeezes pedestrians into one narrowed sidewalk.
Concrete Jersey barriers posing as planters are particularly hideous, part of a new antiterrorist aesthetic that afflicts courthouses and City Hall.
Adding to the visual misery, the New York Police Department rebuffed an effort by the National Park Service to move its disgraceful Statue of Liberty security checkpoint from Battery Park to the island itself. (At the statue’s reopening on July 4 after storm repairs, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said that all options for the checkpoint were under review.)
Very soon, the Police Department will finish a plan to cordon off the entire 16-acre World Trade Center site, adding lines of bollards and nine vehicle-screening zones that come with credential-presentation queues, guard booths and pairs of those bladelike barriers projecting out of the street. (They are capable of stopping a speeding, explosives-laden truck.)
This runs counter to the master plan that was developed to rebuild the site after 9/11, which explicitly restored streets erased to build the Twin Towers in the early 1970s.
Planners wanted to end the deadening effect of the old Trade Center, which wrapped a vast, unusable plaza with buildings and isolated the adjacent Greenwich South neighborhood.
The security ring wasn’t supposed to be necessary. The new buildings have been reinforced to resist the force of bombs. All deliveries and parked vehicles will use an underground vehicle-screening facility that’s being built now.
Since the police will screen only cars and trucks, the plan raises the same questions that government electronic snooping does: How much risk will we accept as a price for either privacy or free use of public space?
The police department’s perspective, according to Richard Daddario, deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, is that “the site must be protected from a vehicle bomb.” Period.
To see how such risks were assessed after 9/11, I met architect Jonathan Marvel in front of Federal Hall, within the security zone created around the Stock Exchange.
He showed me the line of bronze geodes he had designed to guard Wall Street. I watched people use Marvel’s bollards as leaning posts and a convenient place to perch a coffee cup while conversing.
“In suggesting a variety of uses, the bollards invite people to walk and shop,” Marvel said.
The Department of City Planning got Marvel involved in the design of these devices after police parked sand-filled pickups at seven intersections leading to the Stock Exchange following 9/11.
“It was recognized that protections had to be developed that were less hostile and militaristic if we were to bring people back to the area,” Marvel said.
Marvel also replaced the menacing truck barriers with bollarded turntables that are set flush with the street and can be rotated out of the way to let a vehicle pass.
Today, these well-meaning improvements are almost entirely obscured by the maze of movable fences and sentry booths that have been added by the Stock Exchange and an adjacent bank building. The turntables weren’t properly maintained, according to Marvel, and stopped working. Now the intrusive truck barriers are back.
Marvel didn’t work on the Trade Center security plan. It will render worthless the new streets that are being expensively built, because few drivers will endure the pre-authorization and up to five-minute screening needed to enter.
Assuming the dull, over-scaled towers can ever find tenants, the result will be a sterilized precinct, where even pedestrians will feel like they need permission to enter.
“Security devices make us afraid of each other,” Marvel said. “With less obvious barriers, you get more security and less fear.”
London is famous for the so-called Ring of Steel around the City, but it’s not so much steel as surveillance, since citizens and businesses rejected the kind of physical barricades planned for the Trade Center site.
Security agencies don’t like to talk about the “why” of security, but the measures for the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty -- the latter, after all, America’s symbol of freedom -- should not go ahead until the Police Department shows that they are not extravagantly redundant paeans to fear.
The most powerful antidote to terror is an alluring urban precinct alive with people thumbing their noses at terrorists by enjoying their lives.
(James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. He is the author of “The Agile City.” The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Rich Jaroslovsky on tech.