Manhattan, rising above
NEW YORK — Almost all building in Manhattan or any other metropolis amounts to rebuilding, for something has to come down before a new structure goes up. But this time, the rebuilding must be done with special, public-spirited deliberation - to create symbols as well as structures.
The twin towers, of course, were symbols from the start, which is why they were targeted. They stood for the overcoming of earthly limits. Unlike the virtually Gothic skyscrapers that preceded them as New York's highest - the Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings - the towers were simple. Rectilinear, they expressed not only size, but reduced, geometrically simple rationality. They were central, points for navigation as well as work. Out of scale in relation to their surroundings and the jumbled streets they replaced, they represented financial power - astride the world like twin colossi. This the terrorists well understood.
Now, after Sept. 11, nothing alters the city's collective purpose. There remain, undiminished, great missions for world cities such as New York - not only the concentration of services that take place here, but the cultural nodes that we collect. As a port of entry for people from a staggering number of nations, New York stands for the promise of a cosmopolitan age - precisely what murderous fundamentalists despise. Obviously, business buildings should rise from the rubble. The institutions shattered by the planes should not be encouraged to skulk away from Manhattan. Still, it would ill-behoove authorities to permit the erection of new towers as vast and vulnerable as the ones destroyed.
Above all, New York must memorialize the thousands of massacred human beings on the site itself. Affirmative patriotism needs a memorial that goes beyond the reaffirmation of business, for, in the assault, the terrorists implicated not only the grand structures and institutions of finance and commerce but also the American people. They hoped to undermine the concept of world trade and the culture of worldliness. Therefore, what must be affirmed are all the values that came under attack as well as the those who fell prey. American decency and world interdependence must be enshrined.
Real estate values may tempt some to shunt a memorial elsewhere. Skeptics may well ask whether those coming to work want to be reminded of death and destruction. In the short run, surely no one will fail to notice the emptiness in the sky over lower Manhattan. But in the longer run of decades, we deserve no less than a memorial asserting that in the midst of death, we are in life, and that the "we" are American, but also citizens of the world. To reject a vivid, conspicuous memorial would be a travesty of American values.
And astoundingly, the core of a great monument lies readily at hand: the bent, partially scorched segments of the World Trade Center facade left in the rubble. In the 2,000-degree heat from the explosions, these fragments turned Gothic. Arches formed. Like other ruins, the remains are weirdly moving and beautiful. Only superficially intact, these large sections are remnants, instantly reminding us of what and who else were once there, too, and are no longer. Several stories high, they would not be lost from view among the working buildings. They would express both the horror of the destruction and the persistence of the human spirit. Created by the massacre, testimony to the massacre, they would also give form to New York's indefatigable spirit of rising above.
Todd Gitlin, professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New York University, is the author of the forthcoming book 'Media Unlimited '(Metropolitan).