People say that it’s easy to see the visitors in New York because they’re always the ones who are looking up. Real New Yorkers are far too jaded to look up. They’ve seen it all before.
But while the giant buildings that loom over the pedestrians in the city may have a purpose, they also have a point: big structures make the people who stand underneath of them feel very small.
The Chrysler Building, Rockerfeller Center, The Empire State building, The Brooklyn Bridge: The giant structures in New York aren’t just places to work or live, they’re also edifices to the point of view of the people who created them. And what may seem big and gaudy today, can seem quaint once they have put on the patina of decades.
The Twin Towers were like that. While they will now forever be remembered in American history, when they were first erected in the city skyline, they weren’t very popular. I’m old enough to remember people commenting thought they were pretty ugly, or at least boring and pretentious. But after a man walked between them, they gained a little more appreciation as something unique, and very New York. And as the 80s slid into the 90s, they became a double punctuation point on the skyline. Almost empty when they were opened, but it only took a few decades for them to become a prestigious address.
But it wasn’t until you went to the area around the financial district that existed below the towers, that you realized the World Trade Center had reset the scale for that entire section of Manhattan. The buildings that had been built at their feet were designed in a way that made sure that anyone standing beneath them (even jaded New Yorkers) could feel their power. Once upon a time financial buildings were mighty vaults, protecting the wealth within. But in the modern era, our wealth is virtual and fluid. We understand the idea of wealth, even though we can no longer hold it in our hands.
The massive structures that existed in the pre 9/11 financial district were as close as we’ve come to creating a virtual vista in the real world, except without the exceptionally well-timed flock of birds.
The scale was unreal, except that it was.
New York is a science fictional city, because like science fiction it is built from the dreams of our technology. Where other places may take decades or even centuries to implement new ideas, New York constantly hungers for new solutions, and often wipes away the past with little pity for what had come before.
In a place where everything for miles around has existed in someone’s imagination before they’ve laid the first foundation stone, it’s important for a storyteller to understand that while there are many accidental discoveries in the city, everything in it was created with intention.