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WTC as a symbol
by Louis Proyect
12 September 2001 21:03 UTC
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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 


The Columbus Dispatch, January 30,2000, Sunday 


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 

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@panix.com on 09/12/2001

Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

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