Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the death and life of irony

Remember when many proclaimed that 9/11 was the death of irony? Well, let’s just say that I found it ironic that on the same day New York, New Jersey, The Port Authority, and Ol’ Greedy Bastard Larry Silverstein reached a deal on the development of the former World Trade Center site, we were confronted with the passing of Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs, a philosopher/activist/urbanist credited with helping save the West Village, hated the WTC—and, though it is now somewhat sacrilegious to say, she did so with good reason. The egos behind the original World Trade Center arrogantly plowed through the grid and uprooted a mixed-use neighborhood, replacing it with an oversized, underused complex of office spaces with a dreary underground mall and an above-ground plaza that was one of the most unpleasant public spaces in the city.

The WTC was anti-urban, and the new plan for the site seems to share that trait. Instead of true mixed use, we get millions of square feet of office space, some luxury high-rise living, and another shopping center; instead of a welcoming grid of buildings of varying size, we get another “super-block” of office towers, one larger than the next, capped off by the “Freedom Tower” with its stockade-like, pedestrian-hating base. Instead of the organic urban ecosystem, evolved to serve and inspire its residents—a system championed by Jacobs—we are delivered collection of cockamamie compromises and aesthetic affronts, developed to service the bottom line of Silverstein and the laughable presidential aspirations of New York Governor George Pataki.

Add that David “America’s worst living architect” Childs's design for the “Freedom Tower” looks like nothing so much as great big middle finger to the world, and you just know that Jacobs would have been as offended by this building as she was by the Twin Towers. . . one might even say she would have found it ironic.

But Jacobs’s life was about much more than that one development, and I talk about some of that over at capitoilette.


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