Monday, March 20, 2006

of monuments, money and the fall of man

The Paradise Post would have had a field day.
Evicted From Eden!
heavenly host pushes primeval pair from Paradise;
celestial court says pilfering fruit violates terms of creation

There’s trouble in Paradise.
The world’s first residents were ejected from Eden yesterday. Adam and Eve, the original homo sapiens, were pushed from their house by a phalanx of angry angels and ordered never to return to the garden they have called home since six days after the creation of the universe.
The heavenly marshals arrived at dawn with papers stating that Adam and Eve were being dispossessed for taking fruit from a tree at the center of the garden, and stood guard as workers tore down the couple’s stick, mud, and grass dwelling.
Standing silently before the remnants of the hut he had built for his family—the first human habitation ever constructed—Adam grunted and pointed at his wife when asked why they had been sent packing.
“This is absolutely unfair,” Eve said as she picked through the debris for objects that could be used again. “The garden was almost abandoned when we got here. The idea that anyone owns this land, or the fruit on the trees, is insane. We have lived here almost since the beginning of time.”
As night fell, the couple was at work on a new structure just outside the garden. They said they hoped to be moved in before sunrise.
In addition to eviction, the judicial commandment against the couple also called for the earth to be cursed for all time. The owner of Eden, an absentee landlord, could not be reached for comment.
The fall of man was a landlord-tenant dispute.

I thought of this over the past week as I read about the clash between politicos, a public agency, and a developer over the future of Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center towers, which collapsed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001.

We the people of New York (and the nation) are the victims of a fundamental category error. We are acting as if real estate development is in the public interest.

Of course, that’s what developers and public agencies enamored of real estate would have us believe. It’s what they say in their carefully couched press briefings and public appearances.

I’ve got one word for them: Fuhgeddaboudit.

A developer exists for one reason only: to make money on his deals. I don’t care what a mensch developer Larry Silverstein, who holds the lease on the Trade Center site, may be in his private life. The guy is in the business of making money. That’s why he pursued double indemnity for his insurance settlement. And it’s why he’s playing hardball now.

Similarly, a public agency doesn’t get involved in real estate development unless it, too, is interested in money. That’s why the Port Authority started planning to build the towers back in the 1960s. The idea: bring high end offices to the lower end of Manhattan Island, prime the pump, make money (and, in the process, destroy Radio Row, a great and historic area whose only sin was that it offered limited opportunities for making maximum profits.) And that's why they want to rebuild now.

Here’s a quote from Reuters about last week’s squabble: “At issue is who will build which skyscrapers at the site to replace the lost 10 million square feet (930,000 square metres) of lost office space, what rent to charge, and how to divide up Silverstein's $4.6 billion in insurance proceeds.” In addition, the news agency wrote, “A deal is crucial to Silverstein getting $3.4 billion in tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, half each from the state of New York and New York City, which he needs to finance the project.”

This is not about September 11, 2001. It is not about tragedy or terrorism or heroism or consecrating ground that served as a mass grave for 2,749 innocent people, or anything remotely humane. It is about buildable square feet. The redevelopment of the World Trade Center site is nothing more than a real estate deal. And real estate deals are not about higher human emotions. They are about profit.

If the public wants a memorial or, indeed, anything that upholds values more lasting than the Almighty dollar, then let’s take this parcel out of the hands of real estate types. The fall of man hinged on much less.


Anonymous said...

Grand Trade Center Abyss?

rn said...

Grand Real Estate Abyss.