November 2017
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The City in the Age of Terror

times square bollards

Is New York losing important aspects of its urbanity? Does the proliferation of security bollards impede pedestrian use of sidewalks? Have Constitutional rights to free speech and protection from searches suffered as public spaces and facilities are restricted, closed, or made accessible only on condition of acquiescence to inspections of person and belongings? Does the redesign of the Freedom Tower — with its 200-foot concrete base, now covered in prismatic glass and set back 25 feet from Vesey and Fulton Streets and 90 feet from West Street — indicate a trend toward isolationist and non-street-friendly architecture?

bullwarks fifth ave 39 street

On June 28, a panel of lawyers and an architect gathered at the Municipal Art Society to discuss how deterrence of, and planning for, terrorist attacks affects the shape of New York and the lives of its residents and visitors. The MAS Law Committee sponsored the Fifth Avenue and 39th Street.

Constitutional lawyer Richard Emery lamented a recent pattern of court decisions sharply increasing government’s ability to restrict parades and demonstrations, conduct searches, and even control the content of speech.

planters lincoln center plaza

He pointed, for example, to decisions barring an anti-Iraq War parade in front of the United Nations, allowing police inspections of backpacks and other containers, and sustaining limitations on public gatherings in front of City Hall. To an extent, he suggested, such decisions flow from judicial reliance on unsubstantiated opinions about risks and the effectiveness of the security measures, and judges’ fear of taking even the most remote risk of being responsible for a terrorist act occurring.

City Buildings Department General Counsel Phyllis Arnold described changes in the Building Code that have made in response to 9/11, which include the expansion and better isolation of emergency stairways.