Thanks To Sept. 11 Security 'Inertia,' Restrictions Still Shape Public Spaces Fifteen years later, some of the places with heightened security restrictions following the terrorist attacks remain that way. Access to an outdoor sculpture in Seattle, for example, is still tight.

Thanks To Sept. 11 Security 'Inertia,' Restrictions Still Shape Public Spaces

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One of the immediate effects of 9/11 was heightened security in public places - more screening and restrictions and even closure of some areas Americans had once taken for granted as open. NPR's Martin Kaste visited one of those places 15 years later.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: If you live in Seattle, you may have heard of an outdoor sculpture called A Sound Garden on the shore of Lake Washington. It's a cluster of metal towers and tubes, and on windy days, they sing and they moan. Here's a YouTube recording from a few years ago.


KASTE: A Sound Garden used to be a favorite hang out here. In the '80s, it even inspired the name of a certain grunge band. But after 9/11, visiting this spot became more of a chore.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hi. How are you?

KASTE: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How can I help you today?

KASTE: I wanted to go see the Sound Garden.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. You got your current photo ID?

KASTE: Current photo ID.


KASTE: The problem is A Sound Garden is on federal land. It's right by the regional offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At first, it was almost completely off limits, but nowadays you can visit on weekdays during business hours if the guard has enough time to sign you in.

RICK JOHNSON: This security is not too bad. They leave you alone, you know, once you get on here.

KASTE: Rick Johnson still comes here to photograph the birds, but he's careful where he points his telephoto lens.

JOHNSON: They don't want you taking pictures of the buildings.

KASTE: Even though they're just scientific buildings, as far as we know.

JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah.

KASTE: Precautions like this are a vestige of the post-9/11, post-Oklahoma-City security mentality when it was assumed that the terrorists would target government sites. But that's not the assumption anymore, not after Paris, San Bernardino and the Pulse Nightclub. Deputy Chief Mike Downing runs counterterrorism for the Los Angeles Police Department.

MIKE DOWNING: We're seeing a shift towards civilian soft targets now - so mass gathering areas, trains, malls, movie theaters, sporting events etc.

KASTE: And since any place can be a target now, it seems less clear why there should be tighter restrictions for certain places. You're even starting to hear that in lower Manhattan where the growing residential population is chafing against the barriers to cars on certain streets.

JESSICA LAPPIN: If you live here, you want to be able to pull up, unpack your groceries.

KASTE: That's Jessica Lappin, the president of the Downtown Alliance. She's all for security, but she wishes that some of the post-9/11 restrictions could be reviewed.

LAPPIN: But there's really no mechanism or process to get a re-evaluation of some of these measures, and I think that's what people find frustrating.

KASTE: This idea of a kind of security inertia is echoed by Susan Silberberg. She's a city planner in Boston who's taught at MIT and studied the effects of post-9/11 security. She says when restrictions ratchet up, they rarely come down.

SUSAN SILBERBERG: And I think at the end of the day, there are very few public officials and even private building owners who want to be the one who makes the decision to soften some of these rules in case something happens. I don't really see things receding.

KASTE: Still, this rule may have at least one exception soon in California.

ALICIA TROST: People have to go. It's just human nature, and we get it.

KASTE: That's Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, and she's talking about restrooms. They were closed in underground stations after 9/11, but that was one security measure that the public never really learned to accept, at least that's what people keep telling BART.

TROST: We don't want the terrorists to win, and having something as simple as a restroom being closed after so many years - and 9/11 happened long ago. That's also one school of thought we hear a lot from our riders.

KASTE: So the BART board of directors will soon vote on a pilot plan to reopen restrooms in two stations in about a year and a half. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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