Will 9/11 Continue to Take a Toll on America's Cities?
Dixon, David, Fordham Urban Law Journal
What are the implications for planning and policing America's cities in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 ("September 11" or "9/11") and Oklahoma City? These events represent terrible tragedies, and planning and the other disciplines represented at the Fordham Urban Law Journal's 2005 Symposium must contribute to preventing future terrorist acts and minimizing the human and economic costs of such acts if they do occur. It is equally important, however, to avoid imposing possibly greater costs, even inadvertently, in the name of fighting terrorism. Unintended but serious collateral damage to American society from antiterrorism policies, such as the potential threats to civil liberties, the benefits of international tourism, and the intellectual and economic contributions of foreign students and scholars, is already the subject of considerable debate.
If not carefully thought through, policies that modify the way in which we plan for growth and change in America's cities in order to fight terrorism may seriously undermine these cities' ability to compete as places to live, work, and play. In the process of combating terrorism, these measures may undermine the general goals of urban planning, such as enhancing quality of life and economic opportunity for tens of millions of Americans, counteracting the negative environmental and public health impacts of sprawl, promoting community and diversity in a society increasingly marked by economic and racial fragmentation, and creating buildings and public spaces that convey the values of a free and open society.
A number of antiterrorism measures enhance the quality and character of urban life, or at least leave it undamaged. Well-conceived urban design initiatives that add trees, fountains, benches, and well-designed bollards to protect buildings are enhancing Washington, D.C., and other cities. Requirements that buildings be built to better withstand bomb blasts and offer greater protection to inhabitants in the event of fire or potential collapse are making America's buildings safer in the face of a wide range of potential disasters. New technologies that sense threats to air and water quality improve public health.
Nevertheless, a different set of antiterrorism measures represents a serious challenge at a time of potentially historic economic and social regeneration for America's cities. Buildings and spaces that promote the free exchange of ideas and shared experiences provide the bedrock of urban life and play a central role in cities' newfound ability to compete for jobs, housing, and other types of investment. Yet these urban qualities have been among the first casualties across the United States of the post-9/11 quest for security that has taken the form of blank walls and locked doors along public streets; large activity-free perimeters around public buildings; jobs transferred out of downtowns to remote locations; parking forced from beneath public buildings into garages that line public streets with cars instead of people; and similar measures taken without regard to the full range of values that should shape America's cities.
A RECENT HISTORY OF SINGLE-MINDED URBAN INITIATIVES
Since World War II, single-purpose initiatives to reshape urban environments, each a response to one apparently overriding issue, have repeatedly undermined the character and quality of American communities. One striking example of a blinkered solution that produced a generation of buildings hostile to basic human and community values was the 1973 oil embargo, which created a profound sense of vulnerability in America. A colleague of mine recalls, without fondness, her quaint Connecticut community's response to the embargo: deciding, like hundreds of other communities, to banish windows from new schools. (1) To a society unwaveringly focused on conserving energy, that windowless school represented patriotism and civic responsibility.
In retrospect, it also symbolized an aberration, a sense that energy conservation required doing away with the qualities that make schools nurturing places for learning. American cities carry the burdens of such single-issue initiatives--each driven by fear, each now visibly an aberration, and each inadvertently fusing with other dynamics of its time to degrade quality of life and economic opportunity in America's cities, and in the process, weakening our national social fabric.
The legacy of windowless buildings designed solely in response to the oil embargo represented the third assault on cities in three decades. (2) In the 1950s, in the name of national defense, America embarked on a no-holds-barred campaign to build a national highway system that had the effect of cutting downtowns off from their waterfronts, destroying healthy neighborhoods, and flushing residents out of central cities and into suburbs. (3) In the 1960s, responding to a sharp decline in industrial centers, America embarked on an equally aggressive urban renewal campaign that destroyed entire neighborhoods, main streets, and downtowns. (4)
The surge in service-based economies that brought millions of office jobs to America's downtowns in the 1980s and 1990s brought more than renewed prosperity. With new downtown jobs and office buildings came renewed confidence in urban living, and renewed interest in the traditional character and qualities that created great walkable streets, lively urban parks and squares, vibrant waterfronts, and other special qualities that bring a unique vitality to urban life. Most importantly, large numbers of people rediscovered the qualities of community that well-planned and designed urban environments offer.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the war against terrorism threatens to join the responses to the Cold War, to industrial decline, and to the oil embargo as a war against the livability of American cities. In the rush to respond to the threat of terrorism, federal agencies, state and local governments, professional organizations representing security professionals, and others are creating a new generation of planning and design regulations. (5) Their purpose is noble: to make terrorism more difficult and to reduce its human and material toll. The unfortunate indirect impact of these regulations--with their focus on isolating people from buildings and shutting buildings off from streets--could undermine the vitality, sense of community, and civic quality of much of urban America.
THE URBAN IMPACT OF ANTITERRORISM MEASURES
The process of economic rebirth and social revival in American cities hinges on public investment in areas that still represent too much risk for the private sector. These are the very areas that will bear the brunt of new regulations focused on decentralizing potential targets, such as courthouses and other public buildings whose construction or renovation often launches revitalization. The desire for extensive vacant perimeters around courthouses and other public buildings, together with concerns that urban locations are somehow especially vulnerable, threatens to undermine efforts to reverse sprawl. A strong sense of community in urban areas--seen in revived streets and squares that are again drawing people together in cities--plays a critical role in building vitality and reversing economic and social fragmentation. The life of streets and squares depends on a lively interplay between buildings and the public realm, one that is undermined by closing entries to major buildings and surrounding them with security perimeters. Civic buildings and spaces shaped in the interest of security become bunkers, not symbols of a democratic and open society that ennoble and enrich cities.
To understand the impacts of antiterrorism measures on American cities, it is critical to understand:
* What are the essential opportunities and challenges American cities face?
* How can antiterrorism measures affect the ability of cities to respond to these opportunities and challenges?
* How can America maximize the benefits, and minimize urban design, social, financial, and other costs, of protecting Americans against terrorism and promoting the livability of American cities?
PUTTING SECURITY IN CONTEXT: THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES AMERICA'S CITIES FACE TODAY
America's cities are recovering from more than four decades of significant disinvestment and population decline. The transition from an industrial economy to one based on service delivery and technology drained much of the economic life from America's cities. (6) Many older cities lost the bulk of their economic base with the departure of industrial jobs and the emergence of new economic activity in suburbs. (7) It has been noted that the value of Detrows tax base, for example, shrank by more than seventy-five percent in constant dollars between 1950 and 1990 as the city's manufacturing economy collapsed (even as the regional economy …
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Publication information: Article title: Will 9/11 Continue to Take a Toll on America's Cities?. Contributors: Dixon, David - Author. Journal title: Fordham Urban Law Journal. Volume: 32. Issue: 4 Publication date: July 2005. Page number: 723+. © 2009 Fordham Urban Law Journal. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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