September 11th is certainly a time to remember. It has become a national and international day of reflection over the past eleven years, and although the attention dedicated to America’s saddest day has dwindled, especially this year, it still receives considerable attention from the media and the average American citizen. With moments of silence practiced in most schools, additional attendance to masses of various religions, and large-scale annual memorials in Pennsylvania, D.C., and New York City, it is impossible for the memory of 9/11 to ever completely disappear.
However, amongst these many sites of remembrance, the majority of the nation's and world’s attention turns to New York City, the location of the worst tragedy and greatest loss. And even to this day, after eleven years of healing, many New Yorkers, Americans and foreigners still reflect upon the site of the fallen World Trade Centers, the current memorial, and nearly-completed One World Trade Center as a contradictory realm of hope and hostility. Last year for a paper for a course on rhetoric, I decided to analyze the torrent history of the location before, during, and after the WTCs' collapse and the ensuing controversy of the construction of the memorial and what is now known as One World Trade Center. Below are excerpts from that paper, and I hope they serve as a fitting commemoration of the site’s real legacy: American Democracy.
Part I: Early History of The World Trade Centers
The World Trade Centers’ history goes back almost thirty years before their final completed construction in 1970 (The North Tower) and 1972 (The South Tower). The World Trade Center Towers idea originated in 1946. The concept was to develop a large “commercial office development on the lower Hudson, a World Trade Center” that would help New York “remake itself” (Fernandez). The choice of Lower Manhattan was two fold. For one, the area where the WTC were eventually constructed had become to be known “as a seedy and variously industrial part of the waterfront” (Fernandez). In other words, the site would be the beginning of an urban renewal project. The project, which really started in the 1960s under the influence of David Rockefeller, Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, wanted to “reclaim a part of the city that had fallen on hard times” (Fernandez). As a result of these struggles, Rockefeller “was afraid the southern tip of the island was losing its prestige and reputation in the geography of finance” (Schrader/Thornton). This economic motivation and rhetoric to revitalize this once great hub of finance and trading was essential to the WTC’s earliest advocates.
Moreover, the site was chosen on account of its symbolic history, for Lower Manhattan, “served as the original anchor for the settlement of New York City” (Fernandez). There was no better place to start a new, bright future of opportunity for New York City than connecting with its storied past in Lower Manhattan. Rockefeller and his fellow investors and proponents believed that by gentrifying the area, cleaning up the streets, and turning the seedy aspects of Lower Manhattan into something clean, welcoming, and promising, the entire city would dramatically benefit. Austin Tobin, director of the Port Authority from the 1940s to the 1960s, adamantly believed in Rockefeller’s vision. Tobin claimed the New York City, “will receive greatly increased revenues not only from the WTC itself, but by virtue of the increased values of real estate…which will result from the Trade Center’s transformation of the downtown area” (Schrader/Thornton). Tobin’s emphasis on a better and bigger future for not just Lower Manhattan but the entire city was the type of rhetoric everyone would be able to get behind. However, even with all of the supposed economic benefits, as well as the foreseen improvements to the overall physical image of Lower Manhattan, there were still many who felt such efforts weren’t necessary.
The rhetoric of gentrification from people like Rockefeller and Tobin did not sit well with the residents who resided where the WTC were to be constructed… Critics were especially concerned with the “sheer scale” of the buildings, and the new “impersonal urban relationships created and the conservative aesthetics of the building design itself” (Fernandez). This belief that the buildings, too large and inconsistent to the “character of the New York City streets”, was a criticism that lasted for a very long time and one that plagued the WTC architect Minoru Yamasaki. Ada Louise Huxtable, architect critic and writer, referred to the WTC as “the world’s daintiest architecture for the world’s biggest buildings” and lamented that the “…massive construction…is often more disturbing than reassuring” (Fernandez). Not only were the buildings dismissive of Lower Manhattan’s residents and businesses and inconsistent with New York City’s history, but the actual architecture itself was a failure in its imposing nature, according to some. Such challenges, both economic and aesthetic, were direct contradictions to Yamasaki’s own visions of the buildings.
Minoru Yamasaki, as to be expected, saw the buildings as something entirely different. Whereas critics felt the buildings were too detached from the rest of the city, Yamasaki saw them as having a much larger and more meaningful purpose, hoping they would become ‘“a living and active monument to world peace”’ (Schrader and Thornton). Yamasaki believed whole-heartedly in the idea of structures serving a larger function beyond mere business. He believed that through an expanded global economy, with the towers at the center for such commerce, nations could be united in new, unexpected ways. Yamasaki and other supporters believed there still needed to be a landmark for such capital to transfer to, from, and through… America was growing, literally, and so its symbols needed to grow as well; although the early perceptions of the WTC and its value had opposing perspectives, it did not stop construction from getting underway.
Fernandez, John E.. "A Brief History of the World Trade Center Towers." MIT. MIT University, 2002. Web. 10 March 2012. <http://web.mit.edu/>.
"Freedom Tower Name Change Slammed as Unpatriotic." Fox News. Fox News.com, 28 March 2009. Web. 10 Apr 2012. <http://www.foxnews.com>.
Lam, Chau. "Freedom Tower name changed to One World Trade Center." Newsday. Newsday, 26 March 2009. Web. 10 Apr 2012. <http://www.newsday.com>.
Lanham, Richard. The Economics of Attention. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 2006. Print.
Sanchez, Ray. "Plans For Mosque Near Ground Zero Draw Outrage in New York." ABC News. ABC News, 18 May 2010. Web. 6 Apr 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com>.
Schrader, Stuart, and Christy Thornton. "From World Trade Center to Freedom Tower: Toward a New Symbolic Economy?." Stuart Schrader.com. University of Brighton, 12 March 2005. Web. 10 March 2012. <http://www.stuartschrader.com>.
Sturken, Marita. "The Aesthetics of Absence: Rebuilding Ground Zero." Ameircan Ethonologist. 31.3 (2004): 311-325. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <https://files.nyu.edu/>.
Trivedi, Bijal P.. "Why Symbols Become Targets." Nationl Geographic. National Geographic, 13 September 2001. Web. 10 March 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com>.