A sad day for New York City …and journalistic clarity

Your chief blogger is a proud native New Yorker, but World War 4 Report vigorously dissents from the celebratory triumphalism around the still incomplete World Trade Center 1 finally achieving the status of the city's highest building. As we have pointed out repeatedly, apart from marring the skyline with another Fucking Ugly Building (in the straightforward nomenclature of the New York Psychogeographical Association), apart from the entrenchment of the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) economy that is expropriating the working class from New York City, apart from the insult to the 9-11 victims of office space towering over their resting place—the hubristic gesture of building the new WTC higher than the original is almost explicitly a challenge to terrorists to attack the site again, necessitating a permanent police state in Lower Manhattan. And AP's April 30 report on this dystopian "achievement" is riddled with all-too-telling errors and obfuscations. To wit:

NEW YORK — One World Trade Center, the monolith being built to replace the twin towers destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks, will lay claim to the title of New York City's tallest skyscraper on Monday. Workers will erect steel columns that will make its unfinished skeleton a little over 1,250 feet high, just enough to peek over the roof of the observation deck on the Empire State Building. The milestone is a preliminary one. Workers are still adding floors to the so-called Freedom Tower and it isn't expected to reach its full height for at least another year, at which point it is likely to be declared the tallest building in the U.S., and third tallest in the world.

OK, maybe the Associated Press didn't get the word, but the stupid, jingoistic, and (given the police state atmosphere) Orwellian name "Freedom Tower" was thankfully dropped three years ago. We wish the whole damn project would be dropped and the monstrosity demolished to make way for a community garden. (We called for a memorial garden on the site instead of a skyscraper way back in 2002, and have reiterated this proposal at every step in the tortuous development process over the past 10 years.) Meanwhile, we'll take what we can get. "World Trade Center 1" will do, thank you.

Those bragging rights, though, will carry an asterisk. Crowning the world's tallest buildings is a little like picking the heavyweight champion in boxing. There is often disagreement about who deserves the belt. In this case, the issue involves the 408-foot-tall needle that will sit on the tower's roof. Count it, and the World Trade Center is back on top. Otherwise, it will have to settle for No. 2, after the Willis Tower in Chicago.

Now, is this a mere error, or a subtle sleight-of-hand? We are told in the lead that the new building will be "third tallest in the world"; now we are told that it will be "No. 2"—not in the country, which would be accurate—but among the "world’s tallest buildings." (The Willis Tower, by the way, is the former Sears Tower, and the name-change after it was bought by London-based insurance giant Willis Group in 2009 has been as thoroughly rejected by Chicagoans as "Avenue of the Americas" is by New Yorkers. ((That's Sixth Ave., thank you.))

"Height is complicated," said Nathaniel Hollister, a spokesman for The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, a Chicago-based organization considered an authority on such records. Experts and architects have long disagreed about where to stop measuring super-tall buildings outfitted with masts, spires and antennas that extend far above the roof.

We noted this controversy when the new WTC design was first unveiled in 2005. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats informs us that the Sears ("Willis") Tower is only number two if you include the antenna. If you go by highest occupied floor, it is number seven; and if you go by "architectural top" (the roof, basically), it is number eight. So the new WTC is only going to be the world's third highest (certainly not second highest) by the most favorable judging criteria. The AP account does concede at the very end:

As for the world's tallest building, the undisputed champion is the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, which opened in 2010 and reaches 2,717 feet. Not counting about 5 feet of aircraft lights and other equipment perched on top, of course.

But not for long. The Council on Tall Buildings tells us that we are about to enter the "Era of the Megatall," with the Kingdom Tower in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, projected to reach a full kilometer in height (3,280 feet). Can't we find a more productive outlet for human ambition and creativity?

Just asking.

See our last posts on the 9-11 legacy and the struggle in New York City.
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