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Appreciating New York
An essay by NPR's Scott Simon

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon

Sept. 15, 2001 -- When the World Trade Center was built in the 1970s, there were complaints and criticism in New York. Of course, there always are. It was too big for the neighborhood. It blocked the view. It was bland and grand at a time when many thinkers insisted that small is beautiful.

Over the years, I have grown to love the sight of the twin towers looming in the skyline above New York Harbor. If you took the ferry in from Staten Island, just when you could no longer turn your head to look at the Statue of Liberty, the twin towers of the World Trade Center drew your view. Over the years they've come to look to me like the prongs of a magnet, drawing in the world.

When you get off that ferry and walk the long ramp through the turnstiles that click out onto the tip of Broadway, you can feel as if you're bobbing in an ocean of all the world's peoples: tough-necked Russian cabdrivers, thick-soled cops, turbaned Sikhs, Chinese grandfathers, African students in splendid silk scarves, wide-eyed tourists babbling in a tower of languages, all manner of Americans, New Yorkers all.

"When terrorists chose a target in New York, they attacked that part of America that is most dazzlingly diverse, the most determinedly irreverent and off-center. That may be exactly why the sort of blind souls who would fly an airplane as a bomb into the breathing heart of a city chose that spot."

Scott Simon

When terrorists chose a target in New York, they attacked that part of America that is most dazzlingly diverse, the most determinedly irreverent and off-center. That may be exactly why the sort of blind souls who would fly an airplane as a bomb into the breathing heart of a city chose that spot.

At the opening of the atomic age, E.B. White of The New Yorker noticed that a single flight of planes no larger than a wedge of geese could, quote, "quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality," he wrote, "is part of New York now, and the sound of jets overhead, and the black headlines of the latest editions. In the mind of whatever perverted dreams might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."

It is simply unimaginable to me that New York will leave that hole in its sky empty for long. Emptiness would be no memorial to those who died there this week, and no testament to those who have sweated and bled to try to save them. It would say in a way that New York is done, settled, finished; the world should take its great ambitions elsewhere.

I hope, I trust, that when the time comes, New York will build something back into that hollowness that is sky-high and spectacular, something that says to itself and proclaims to the world, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

Scott Simon is host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.