This summer brought a scorching July and a soggy August that ended with a small earthquake and a hurricane that shut down the city. Instability—the new norm—is at least preferable to last summer’s eruptions surrounding the mosque at Ground Zero. As fall comes, and the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 goes, it’s worth considering what’s changed in the past decade.
Ever since that momentous event 10 Septembers ago, the city has become a tighter, more restricted place. Surveillance cameras watch our every move, and we passively accept a metal detector “wand-down,” even at the ballpark. Measures ostensibly aimed at fighting terrorism, like “random” bag searches on the subway, in reality are just another component of racialized stop-and-frisk policing. Suspicion also breeds contempt, as we endured in the run-up to the 9th anniversary of 9/11. And this month may see the Republicans’ Tea Party wing lay claim to its second New York City congressional seat.
The city has suffered no shortage of public and private investment in security over the last 10 years. More often than not, the money has been well spent. But all of us non-uniformed types can play a useful role, too. “Why is this knucklehead parked in the bus lane?” Times Square handbag vendor Duane Jackson asked himself late one Saturday night in early May, 2010. Along with fellow vendor—and fellow Vietnam vet—Lance Orton, Jackson alerted mounted police officer Wayne Rhatigan, who would soon call in the bomb squad. In the crucial initial stages, it was low-tech sleuthing that sniffed out big trouble in the making.
However man-made the causes, natural disasters require more vigilance than any one of us can provide. From Paterson to Prattsville on up to Vermont, we can witness the damage that Irene very easily could have wrought upon New York City. The inconvenient truths of global warming have indeed generated plenty of discussion over the past decade. But while PlaNYC 2030 has many worthy features, it may be time to reset our watches. Does the flood of development along the East River really take into account rising sea levels? Here we may take some cues from the network of dams, dikes, and floodgates of the cities in the Netherlands. If the city were again known as New Amsterdam, we’d all be a bit better off.
The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is certainly a time to remember the heroism and valor of so many New Yorkers. Come September 11, 2021, let’s hope we can look back on a decade of collective efforts to make our city safe in every possible way.
Hope you can make it to this year's Brooklyn Book Festival, slated for Sunday, September 18. I'll be moderating the following panel:
CITY LIFE, FROM THE GROUND UP: Eminent urbanists Marshall Berman (All that Is Solid Melts into Air), Sharon Zukin (Naked City), and Eli Anderson (The Cosmopolitan Canopy) assess the contemporary urban experience, while Greg Lindsay (Aerotropolis) previews our Blade Runner-esque future.