After yesterday's monster post, I am still thinking about urban problems. An article by Eric Klinenberg (in the March 22 edition of New Statesman
) caught my eye. He asks whether the terrorist attacks might cause (or hasten) the decline of the city. Cities are obvious targets for terrorists (how tempting was the World Trade Center in terms of symbol, finance, demography, and size?). But Klinenberg notes that new construction in New York did not slow down because of Sept. 11:
Countless American pundits predicted that [prices in Manhattan] would go down soon after the twin towers. Who, they asked, would buy or develop property in New York City, let alone around Wall Streetm after 11 September? The answer: everyone who could afford it. Property values are way up from 2001, and real estate surrounding the World Trade Center is among the priciest in town. The US may be in a recession, but the New York City market is soaring again.
This is a good point. There is no reason to believe that terrorists acts will substantially reshape the urban landscape. Terrorism did play into American society's longstanding fears about the dangers of the urban environment.
However, Klinenberg uses these numbers about new construction to claim that there is an urban renaissance. This goes too far. The fact that office building are going up in the south end of Manhattan cannot be tied to a greater revival of the city. That can only be proven if people are choosing to move into the city
. Preferred living spaces for New York businessmen will continue to be in other parts of the city (where the altitude is not so extreme) or in adjacent states (for those set on having a garden).
The continued importance of New York as a space of rapid business transactions and a playground for the men of affairs was never challenged by September 11. The city plays a vital role in the global economy. The institutions that make it important have not been forced to relocate (or worse, outsourced).
Can we infer the fate of Madrid? Klinenberg claims that Madrid will go on, even if the operation of daily life changes dramatically. I am inclined to agree. Madrid is still the political, economic, and cultural focus of the nation (Barcelona will remain the defiant second city
--the romance it inspires is mostly consumed by foreigners).
But how will it affect the larger urban environment that depends on transportation. Sept. 11 did not challenge infrastructure in the way that M11 did. Including the bombs found on French rail line (see below) there might be more reluctance for people to commute to work. It is much easier to feel safe from the dangers that the city poses if one can distance oneself from the city. But that distance depends on trains, cars, roads, etc. Public transport can be a more frightful target.