Twenty years later On 9/11, many simple actions that were once taken for granted now seem unfathomable: strolling with relatives to their flight gates, winding through the company square, and using the streets near the government buildings. The public places of our metropolis are now surrounded by steel and surveillance. In the last year and a half of the ongoing pandemic, cities have become more closed. With each new obstacle created, more features of the city will be eroded: freedom to move, walk, and even, as Walter Benjamin said, “getting lost… is like getting lost in the forest”.
It’s harder to get lost in constant tracking. When the public space between home and work is deprived, it becomes more difficult to gather freely. Is called the third place, They are connective tissue that stitches together the structures of modern communities: A park where teenagers can skateboard next to their grandparents playing chess, a library where children can learn to read, and homeless people can find a digital lifeline. When the third place disappears, as it has been since the attack, the community may be shaken.
Without these spaces to connect us together, the lives of citizens would be more like several independent societies operating in parallel. Just as the social media echo chamber weakens our ability to talk online, losing third place creates a physical echo chamber.
The United States has never been particularly good at protecting our third place. For the enslaved and aboriginal people, entering the town square alone may be sentenced to death. Later, the racial terrorism of Jim Crow in the South deprived African Americans of not only the right to vote, but also the right to access lunch counters, public transportation, and even literally drinking fountains. In northern cities such as New York, black Americans still face arrest and violence for violating strict but invisible segregation laws.
Throughout the 20th century, New York established an exclusionary infrastructure to prevent our homeless neighbors from sharing urban institutions, which, by law, should be occupied by them. In 1999, the then Mayor Rudy Giuliani warned homeless New Yorkers, “In a civilized society, the streets have no purpose for people to sleep there.” His threats prompted thousands of New York Police Department officials to systematically target the homeless and drive them out of sight, thereby semi-privatizing this typical public place.
Despite these restrictions, before 9/11, millions of New Yorkers could wander and wander through the vast modern public network—public parks, private plazas, trails, sidewalks, open spaces, and community gardens, just like those they used to be. No one will ever meet across the path. These random encounters energize our city and give us a sense of unity. That shared space began to slip away from us 20 years ago. If we are not careful, it will disappear forever.
After the attack, we heard the patriotic clichés of those who promised to “defend democracy.” But in the years that followed, their defense became the biggest threat to democracy, rebuilding the city into a safe space. The billions of dollars we have spent to “defend our way of life” have proven to be a failure, and it is not clear whether we can reverse this trend.
In a country The term “please provide documents” used to be synonymous with foreign authoritarianism, but photo ID has become a permanent requirement. Before 9/11, New Yorkers could spend a whole day traveling through the city without needing an ID. Now almost any large building or institution needs it.
Although the ID check has become the muscle memory of millions of privileged New Yorkers, it is a source of uncertainty and fear for others. Millions of Americans do not have a photo ID, and for more people, the use of ID is a risk and is a source of data for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mizue Aizeki, interim executive director of the New York-based immigration defense project, said, “ID systems are particularly easy to become surveillance tools.” Aizeki added that “data collection and analysis are becoming more and more important to ICE’s ability to identify and track immigrants,” noting that since Since its establishment after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has greatly increased its support for surveillance systems.
ICE has spent millions of dollars to cooperate with companies such as Palantir, a controversial data aggregator that sells information services to governments at home and abroad. Suppliers can collect digital login lists from buildings where we display IDs, facial recognition in squares, and countless other surveillance tools that track the area around office buildings with almost military-level surveillance. According to Aizeki, “With the massive escalation of immigration supervision, advocates are facing a rapidly expanding state of surveillance.”