Skyscrapers held hostage?

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Providence Journal:

Among the ideas emerging from the attack on the World Trade Center is that skyscrapers are a form of building whose time has now passed: Build low, goes this reasoning, so as not to court more terrorism.

Leaving aside that the Pentagon is hardly a skyscraper, this thinking is another surrender to terrorism. To abandon freedom in the quest for greater security is to abandon an aspect of our society that terrorists seem to hate. Likewise, skyscrapers are not only among the most characteristically American building types; they symbolize the boundless energy of our commerce.

If we are to abandon future skyscrapers, are we then also to abandon all existing skyscrapers? What is the number of floors below which buildings cease to be attractive to the Osama bin Ladens?

As for building low where we now build high, that merely means denying the value of a scarce resource. Land is most valuable in prosperous city centers throughout the nation. Tall buildings sprout where a high density of people live and work, be it New York, Chicago, Boston or Providence. Downtown is tower heaven because the market demands it. That will not change, nor should it. And in some cities, especially those near the water, skyscrapers look wonderful - note San Francisco, Boston, New York, and, yes, even Providence.

But building low for aesthetics, as in Washington is fine - such decisions should be made by civic leaders, not terrorists. Building low means building on more land; building low to obey the will of terrorism rather than the will of the market will only increase existing pressure on the rural areas that are, to an extent, a refuge from the swift pace of modern life. Sprawl may be more inevitable or less inevitable, but don't let terrorism egg it on.

Build high? Build low? Build a memorial? A park? Rebuild the World Trade Center? Any one might be appropriate, if not necessarily practical. New York should decide, will decide.

Of course, increased security at airports, in skyscrapers and everywhere else, is the order of the day, as it should be. But the main mission should be to do as much as possible to stop terrorism at its source.

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