"Who's afraid of the big, bad buildings?" Ada Louise Huxtable wrote of the World Trade Center in 1966, "Everyone, because there are so many things about giantism that we just don't know.... The Trade Center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world."
It sounds like an eerily prescient metaphor, but in 1966 the grave those towers marked was of a 13-block area known as Radio Row. "They were not killed, but they were the first victims of the World Trade Center," writes Syd Steinhardt in this article on the death of a once-vibrant mom-and-pop neighborhood. The article is filled with details about the shops and the merchants, many of whom died as "broken men" after having their livelihoods snatched away by eminent domain.
photo from flickr
Radio Row's plight brings to mind current struggles in Willets Point, Atlantic Yards, and elsewhere. And while today is a day to remember the victims of 9/11, it's also a time to think about the state of our city. New York is not threatened with destruction only by outside terrorists, but also by attacks from within, from politicians and businessmen who seek to wipe out a way of life.
Many people call for a replacement of the towers. They want to put things back "the way they were." What if we really put things back the way they were? What if, instead of erecting more "big, bad buildings" our city created a viable space for small businesses like those that were destroyed in the 1960s -- and continue to be destroyed today?
This, of course, will never happen. Memory is short, money is king, and big always wins out over small. But sometimes it's good to remember that New York was once more humble and no less great for being so.
For more information on Radio Row, check out NPR and the Sonic Memorial. For new information on digital memorials to 9/11, go to NYT.