Cultural Institution Blesok • Established 1998
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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 33 | volume VI | July-August, 2003



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 33July-August, 2003

How Downtown Can Stand Tall and Step Lively Again

p. 1
Saskia Sassen

    EPT. 11 struck at one dream of urban planners: that the best way to make a city dense is to make it tall. Many people said terrorism had spelled the end of the skyscraper. Indeed, the whole notion of concentrations of high-rise buildings has long been under attack. For the last 20 years we have seen treatises – some excellent, some tiresome – that tell us why spatial agglomeration no longer carries benefits for businesses and markets; that global telecommunications have made it unnecessary for financial communities to assemble physically in one place.
    We might wonder, therefore, about the verticality and density in the proposals presented last month for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. We might also ask how are we to reconcile these projects with an office space vacancy rate of more than 15 percent, even after millions of square feet were destroyed? How are we to reconcile these projects with the fact that many companies have left for Midtown Manhattan, Connecticut and New Jersey?
    These are valid points, but they get at only half the story.
    The other half is that strategic, creative activities – whether economic, cultural or political – thrive on density.
    In a global economy, with uncertain markets and changing conditions, the most advanced and speculative sectors need concentrations of resources – talent, management, technological infrastructure and buildings. They need dense environments where information does not simply circulate but gets produced.
    The geography of the global economy consists of both world-spanning networks and these concentrations of resources, as provided by about 40 global cities. New York remains at the top, even after the devastation of Sept. 11, along with London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Paris. That each is different in what it offers the global economy further underlines New York's role.
    It is part of Lower Manhattan's history to reinvent itself continually. In the late 1970's the departure of large commercial banks and insurance companies convinced many that Wall Street was finished. But these departures created room for what were then relatively small financial firms to grow. Similarly today, departures may make it possible for new sectors and new mixes of talent to emerge in Lower Manhattan. We have already seen this with new-media firms, which benefit from proximity to various resources and forms of expertise, including financial, legal and accounting.
    There is an economic logic, then, to thick, dense places. But what are the possible architectures of density? In

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