I have a memory of standing on top of the east tower of the World Trade Center when I was quite young. It was a large group of people who were up there with us–me and my parents and probably a cousin who was visiting New York from the United Kingdom. All I remember is the sky, so blue, a few stratus clouds were scattered through the sky. And when you looked out over the city, it seemed limitless. Even looking back at the other tower, I had a feeling of being part of some kind of history. I imagined a tightrope slung between the two towers and the French aerialist and performance artist Phillipe Petit walking between them. My mother told me about that when I was a kid and I’ve always been fascinated by that feat.
And now that One World Trade Center is almost complete, the new observatory on the 100th floor is being finished as the pièce de résistance of the tower. The World Trade Center of old always had this air of wonder and mystery around it and I hope that this will be restored with the its reincarnation. But I have a problem. At first glance, the current plans for the One World Observatory, which will take up 3 floors at the top of the WTC, seem pretty cool. But take a longer look, and it becomes clear that what once was a clean cut observation deck is turning into a bit of an amusement park.
Sure, in their animated rendering there’s a hallway when you first come in telling you about the history of the place, the geology of the bedrock–that’s not what bugs me, that’s actually kind of interesting and informative. What I find bizarre is that when they show what the actual observatory looks like, they’ve peppered the windows with televisions and entertainment. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going up to stand on top of the world, I want to leave all that stuff back on Earth. And I definitely don’t want to be sold sports-game priced hot dogs and pretzels (Legends Hospitality, a concessions and retail company owned by the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, is expected to sign a 15-year contract to manage the observatory.)
The argument, I think, that its creators would make, is that people will come up who want to know where the best places are to eat, to dance, to go out to. That’s fine. But I hope they construct the whole thing in a way so that when I finally can go back up to the top of the World Trade Center, I can ignore all the advertisements grabbing my attention and once more gaze out over the city and be awed, simply because of the view. I want to look back at Brooklyn, and imagine myself standing on the roof of my brownstone, staring at the top of the glass tower. And I want to be connected to that young child who first stepped out on top of the world into the wind and the sun, terrified that the guard rails weren’t large enough to hold such throngs of people. I want to be connected to that sense of wonder I had looking up at the sky, which from up there seemed so vast and wide.
I don’t want anything extra.