The Corner

Re: Freedom Isn’t Free…and One World Trade Isn’t the Freedom Tower?

Good post, Will … but alas, nothing at the World Trade Center site is that straightforward. 

Many New Yorkers — including potential office-tower tenants — associate “Freedom Tower” not with soaring recovery from 9/11 but with something far more prosaic: years and years of costly delay as bureaucrats from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which owns the site), New York State, and New York City bickered and dithered about what to build and how, and how much it would cost (answer: more than they all thought!).

After Gov. Pataki left office with his “Freedom Tower” still a hole in the ground, more pragmatic heads had to re-design Daniel Libeskind’s architecturally impossible “Freedom Tower” so that it could get built. (New Yorkers who have been paying attention don’t see Libeskind as our architectural savior, but as someone who made our practical problem — how to replace office towers on those 16 acres and make room for a memorial, too — into a vanity art project.)

During the first half-decade after 9/11, then, New Yorkers learned to hear “Freedom Tower” and think not “Wow, we beat the terrorists; thanks, Governor Pataki!” but rather, “white-elephant Ground Zero rebuilding project that’s not getting built and that’s embarrassing us all.”

It’s that heuristic that may turn off potential tenants — and the Port Authority knows it.

Hence, the name change.

Still, though … when I see the tower — after getting over my surprise that it’s there, even though I see it every week! – I automatically think “Freedom Tower,” not “One World Trade Center.” 

A coda: no matter what you call it, what you think of the new tower may depend on how old you are, among many other things.

To people who grew up with the “old” World Trade Center as a fixture on the skyline, the Freedom Tower (sigh, there it is again) is not an adequate replacement. On the other hand, at least some people who grew up before the old World Trade Center existed never quite got used to it before 9/11; they saw the Twin Towers as crude impositions on the skyline. They may prefer the new tower, or at least not dislike it any more than they did the old ones.

Young people and newcomers to the city, though, never saw the old towers in person. Yet they have seen the new tower go up. They may naturally embrace the new building because it is theirs.

So, to recap, young people may like it, old people may benignly tolerate it, and people in the middle may quietly resent it, all while calling it by different names.

That is the real victory over the terrorists — not an office building (we’ve built plenty of those over the past decade, and for much cheaper) but the fact that some things never change.

And another coda: if you are unlucky enough to be passing through New Jersey, what draws your eye from that side of the river now is not the Freedom Tower, but rather One57 — Extel’s high-rise condo tower for the one-percent-of-the-one-percent on the south side of Central Park.

The Freedom took years of planning and complaining. One57 came out of nowhere, seemingly overnight.

It would be nice to say that may be the difference between the public sector and the private tower — except both buildings are equally ugly!


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