Friday, February 13, 2009

World Trade Center, 8 Years On

"Do we really want to give a trillion dollars of taxpayer money to the guys who haven't managed to fill in this hole in the ground after eight years?" Such was Rick's wise question as we looked down at the site of the former World Trade Center. Lots of equipment and a few men working. As Rick likes to say on many an occasion: the government has a reverse Midas touch.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (50% each state) owns the WTC site. Like the MTA or the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority, it was set up like a corporation, but the government owns all the stock. Technically known as public operating authorities, these agencies were supposed to avoid the problems of inefficient bureaucracy associated with government administration. Thus, they float their own bonds and are supposed to take care of their own financing through fees, fares, bridge tolls, and the like.  The WTC was built with the idea that the PA could use the buildings for their own office while renting out the bulk of it, which it did until 9/11.

Whatever their efficiencies might have been in the 1920s, when these agencies were established, they now operate in sclerotic government fashion. Over the years, they have become heavily dependent on the public till because the costs of operations are unacceptably high. Who would pay $5.00 to ride the subway? Thus politicians have meddled in the workings of these agencies, whether to provide jobs in their immediate neighborhoods, to grandstand over transit fares, or to exercise similar antics. Larry Silverstein, who signed a 99-year lease on the entire WTC complex  shortly before the towers were destroyed on 9/11, would be the obvious person to redevelop the site, but there has been so much  meddling by politician who want to satisfy everyone that, after eight years, there remains that gaping hole in the ground. Michael Bloomberg might have been president today if he had shown himself able to manage these competing interests. (He would be president if he could solve New York City's traffic problems.) Instead, he has spent his time grandstanding about trans fats and smoking and turning the town into a nanny state.

The situation is different at the nearby World Financial Center, which also took quite a hit on September 11, 2001. It was a glorious, unseasonably warm day in the city this week when we biked down to the Battery and stopped at the Winter Garden. It is now restored to its pre-9/11 splendor, with its huge palms (uprooted from the Mojave Desert) and the wide arc of rose granite steps ascending up to the platform from where we looked down at the WTC construction site. It's a readymade advertisement for "Come to New York and work and play in a wonderful environment." It also seemed to be serving as "Babysitter Central."

A group called BQE Project was warming up in preparation for a 5 p.m. concert. New York and America, too, is a great place. If I had to get an office job, I'd certainly want to work downtown!

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