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Summer 2002
CUNY Biologists Cultivate New Medicines
Remarkable June Grads Break the Mold
Major CUNY Response to Nursing Shortage
Harlem Hospital Leader a Role Model for Salk Scholars
"Votes Rebuild New York" Campaign Launched
Goldstein “Closeup” On Honors College Governors Island, High Schools
CUNY ANNOUNCES 9/11 Memorial Competition
CCNY Engineer Honored by the Nation

Seminar-in-a-Book Ponders 9/11

From "Ground Zero" Rapper to City Council Candidate
Turning Anger into Literature
Model City Council Planned in the Fall
Highlights of 2002-2003 State Adopted Budget
Two New CUNY Trustees Appointed
Biomedical Engineer Wins Guggenheim
City University Leading Producer of Hispanic Graduates
The Challenge of AIDS in Africa
Bilingual: College French, Scientist's Latin
Presidential Appointments for Queens and York Colleges

Queens College Artist Adds New Passion to His Palette

El Diario-La Prensa Editor Honored at Model Senate

Intel Chief Plunges into Memory

Dual Citizen of the Pen

"Opticals" for Woody Allen, Illustrations for Mother Nature
CUNY Faculty Experts on Post-9/11 Response Listed on Web Site
 
 

Seminar-in-a-Book Ponders 9/11

Distinguished Professor Marshall Berman, one of CUNY’s more venerable hands at local history, describes how the collapse of the Twin Towers sank in on him that sunny September morning: “I live and work at the other end of town. The radio told me to turn on TV fast; I was just in time to see the second plane crash, and then the implosions. My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, it’s just like my book!’ I meant All That Is Solid Melts into Air, a book I wrote in the eighties about what it means to be modern.”

book tittled After the World Trade  CenterAt first Berman was taken aback by the seeming egotism of his response, but then, after watching more TV and listening reactions in the streets, he reflected, “I heard people talk, and I saw they were doing just what I’d done: making enormous mythical constructions that would make the whole horrific event revolve around them. We were like needy sculptors rushing to produce instant replacements for the giant stabiles that had stood on World Trade Plaza.”

Thus begins Berman’s lead-off essay, “When Bad Buildings Happen to Good People,” in a just-published collection from Routledge, After the World Trade Center: Rethinking New York City. The epigraph Berman chose for his essay, from the exhausted last speech in King Lear, is perfectly apt: “The weight of this sad time we must obey;/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

As the March issue of CUNY•Matters demonstrated, the City University boasts countless faculty involved in envisioning a new and improved Lower Manhattan. So it comes as small surprise that the two co-editors of After the WTC and nine of its contributors come from within the CUNY fold.

The volume was conceived by local architect Michael Sorkin, who directs the Graduate Urban Design Program at City College, and Sharon Zukin, Broeklundian Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and at the Graduate Center. Sorkin’s previous books include Variations on a Theme Park, Local Code, and Some Assembly Required, while Zukin has authored Loft Living, Landscapes of Power, and The Cultures of Cities.

As the editors make clear in their introduction, one impetus for their project was dismay at some early warning signs of planners getting off on the wrong foot. “There has been a rapid and unseemly return to business as usual by many,” Sorkin and Zukin observe. “Encouraged by the media, architects and planners trotted after the ambulance, ready to try to get the biggest job of their careers, joined by politicians and developers eager to thump their chests and proclaim the importance of rebuilding immediately. Everywhere the bromide is retailed that to rebuild something bigger, taller, and better than ever is the only way to respond to terrorists. Few seem to suggest that our ‘victory’ can lie only in a consequence that is positive for all of us, not in reflexive machismo.”

While acknowledging that “we cannot reclaim the WTC site without respectfully addressing its many ghosts,” the editors conclude with this expression of intention: “We do not want our critical faculties to be subverted by our sorrow; we do not want the rebuilding of what was to take the place of building what should be.”

Many of the views expressed are bold and feisty, as is aptly suggested by Berman’s pugilistic title for his essay and by this remark in it: “The Twin Towers were purposely isolated from the downtown street system, and designed to fit Le Courbusier’s dictum ‘We must kill the street.’”

Similarly coruscating is “The Janus Face of Architectural Terrorism,” by Hunter College grad and former teacher Eric Darton, whose biography of the Twin Towers was featured in the March issue of CM. Darton begins by noting some biographical similarities between attack’s apparent mastermind, Mohammed Atta, and the WTC’s architect, Minoru Yamasaki, then goes so far as to call the “building of the WTC itself as a destructive act—specifically, an attack planned by the city’s oligarchs and carried out with the general consent of its populace.”

In her essay on “Our World Trade Center,” Zukin calls the WTC a “giant construction scheme masquerading as an urban renewal project,” and then observes with a little acid, “We do not just mourn the victims of terror; we mourn an older city, a bustling and gritty urban center that didn’t have chain stores or welfare reform or companies that do business just as easily from New Jersey, Trinidad, or Hyderabad as they do from Lower Manhattan.”

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, David Harvey, ends his contribution, “Cracks in the Edifice of the Empire State,” with the sobering suggestion that 9/11 may have signaled the end of “the American century” and of New York City’s hegemony at geographical center of capitalism. New York, he says, has been “at the center of the last 30 years in which finance capital has come to dominate all the activities of the business world. In years to come we may learn to see September 11 as the first shot in bringing that particular world to an end.”

Harvey then makes the connection with former such centers: “If so, then New York—like Venice, Genoa, Amsterdam, and London in previous centuries—will undoubtedly survive, but will have to adjust to a very different status of subservience rather than mastery.”

Another Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, Neil Smith, casts a highly skeptical eye on the aftermath behavior of the media and the federal government in “Scales of Terror: The Manufacturing of Nationalism and the War for U.S. Globalization.” “Fabricated ignorance of the world is most powerfully expressed,” Smith observes caustically, “in the plaintive American refrain, ‘Why do they hate us so much?’—a question whose framing guarantees a fallacious answer.”

Smith also points to press censorship, “self-imposed or otherwise,” especially since the beginning of the Afghanistan war in early October as contributing to a “dialectic of ignorance and national victimization. He notes, for example, that “while the estimate of victims at the WTC has dipped below 3,000, estimates of innocent casualties in the Afghan war are now close to 4,000 and rising, although one would search in vain for this figure in the U.S. media.”

Mustafa Bayoumi’s “Letter to a G-Man” explores the local treatment of Arab- Americans by security forces after the attack. Bayoumi, a professor in the Brooklyn College English department and co-editor of The Edward Said Reader, begins his acerbic letter by weighing in with a heavy irony: his own extended Arabic family began immigrating to America with the World’s Fair of 1876. And where did his family’s later arrivers come? To the neighborhood just south of Ground Zero, centering on Washington Street above Morris Street.

As co-author of two pertinent books, The Anthropology of Space and Place and Place Attachment, Setha Low is ideally cast to explore the plans for a Ground Zero memorial in her essay “Spaces of Reflection, Recovery, and Resistance.” The Graduate Center professor of anthropology and environmental psychology considers a wide variety of proposals and offers her own in this final paragraph: “I imagine a complex space with gardens of reflection and recovery, buildings with memorials and historical documents, as well as places to work and play, and open plazas for people to come together to discuss and disagree in a public environment—a post-industrial plaza where the imagery and imagination of all communities, children and seniors, workers and retirees, residents and visitors, will then find public expression.”

Another example of perfect casting would be Robert Paaswell as the author of an essay on “A Time for Transportation Strategy.” Here, the director of the University Transportation Research Center at CCNY and of CUNY’s Institute for Urban Systems expands on the views he offered in the March issue of CM on priorities to be observed as Lower Manhattan’s transportation infrastructure is redesigned.

Paaswell concludes with this challenge: “New Yorkers are used to thinking big—except when they want their institutions to do something. We have the brains, energy, ideas, and the right technology to rebuild the Lower Manhattan infrastructure as a working model of how to do it right in the global city. But if we rebuild the last century’s systems, we will greatly shortchange ourselves.”

As befits a co-author of the Pulitzer-winning Gotham, a history of the city up to 1898, historian Edwin Burrows lays out a more expansive perspective in his “Manhattan at War.” In this essay, the Brooklyn College historian highlights previous moments when violence spawned by international trade and war erupted in the city. His first focus: the Anglo-Dutch wars for hegemony in America in the 17th century.

The wind-up essay of the collection is “New York, New Deal,” by Mike Wallace, Burrows’ Gotham co-author and founding director of the Graduate Center’s Gotham History Center. The John Jay professor begins by invoking the summer of 1814, when New York “boiled with activity” under the threat of British invasion. “Artisans and patriotic ladies, lawyers and cartmen, merchants, shopkeepers, and ‘free people of color” felled trees, dug trenches, and hauled artillery about Brooklyn Heights and Upper Manhattan, while some 23,000 volunteer militiamen…drilled and paraded.”

The attack never came, but Wallace thinks the example of city-wide mobilization for “our common weal” fits the post-9/11 city perfectly. He finds another historical analogy even more attractive, making this modest proposal: “I’m not talking about something far greater than the anemic ‘stimulus packages’ that have been bruited about. We need, I think, a new New Deal.” Wallace then outlines the remarkable accomplishments of the Works Progress Administration during the LaGuardia years.

Though Wallace grants the WPA “was not perfect,” he suggests the model might help in the “push to replace tax breaks for corporations and the rich with a massive transfer of federal monies, under reasonable national guidelines, back to badly strapped states and localities.”