Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The "Threat of Terrorism" and the Right to the City

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The "Threat of Terrorism" and the Right to the City

Article excerpt


Security in the face of a declared threat of terrorism dominates much of the discussion about city life in the United States today, with frequent reference to the events of September 11, 2001 ("September 11" or "9/11"). Do cities give appropriate weight to the threat of terrorism after 9/117 Is the terrorist threat in fact a product of 9/11? How have cities and urban planning changed post-9/11, and how is terrorism related to those changes?

The basic argument of this paper is that whatever has changed about the actual threat of terrorism since 9/11, a great deal has changed in that which is done in its name. I argue that there have been both legitimate and false responses to the perceived threat. The impact of the legitimate response is almost trivial, representing more of a continuation of trends already in place before 9/11 rather than something new. In contrast, the impact of the false response has been substantial. The false response has used the threat of terrorism as a pretext to pursue an agenda that has nothing to do with physical safety or protection against terrorism, but is directed instead at winning elections, restricting debate and dissent, and maintaining tight political control over the range of democratic processes. (1) In New York City, many such agendas have related to changes in real estate values in lower Manhattan. In general, however, the implicit agenda has been to increase the political control of dissent, to limit debate about the general direction of certain policies, and to control the use of public space for democratic but dissident purposes. That implicit agenda has been advanced since 9/11 under the pretext of the threat of terrorism, not in legitimate response to it. I do not, however, claim that these limitations on the use of public space, and the neo-conservative program with which these limitations are connected are new or solely related to 9/11; again, the pattern precedes 9/11, although it has since intensified. (2)

Let me begin by specifying what I mean by legitimate and false responses to terrorism:


Legitimate  Targeted           Directed at grounded   Efficient: metal
            responses          risks, regardless of   detectors at
                               costs                  airports

                                                      shoe removal at

            Balanced           Attempting to          Surveillance
            responses          balance risks against  cameras at
                               economic and civil     entries to
                               rights costs           public buildings;

False       Spillover          Expanding the meaning  No Loitering
            responses          of "security"          signs at train

            Induced            Building a climate     Ethnic profiling,
            responses          justifying unrelated   immigrant
                               responses              restrictions,
                                                      unrelated to

            Pretext            Directly justifying    Constrained
            responses          unrelated responses    assemblies, Iraq

Targeted responses are effective responses intended to eliminate grounded threats of terrorism. …

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