Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

China: We like your tower but not your "Freedom."
NYC: Consider it gone!

The Port Authority has finally signed its first tenant for the 102-story tower to be built at One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower. A Chinese real estate interest has agreed to take five floors with a stunning caveat: they get to veto the name. Granted, there is no official quid pro quo, but the fact that the two developments (both of which have been in the works for almost a year) were announced in the same release unmistakably links the two phenomena.

So, just as the Chinese Government blocks its citizens from reading dissident (or even many mainstream) web sites, so they're able to censor the terminology used on the sacred 9/11 site. Not good.

It's all the more disturbing on the heels of Chinese grumblings about US monetary policy, the dollar as international reserve currency, and stimulus rules about foreign steel (which is standard practice world-wide for government construction projects.)

China is unmistakably starting to flex its economic muscles as well they should (from their perspective). I don't begrudge that nor am I overfond of the Freedom nomicker. After all the F word has indelible associations with the Bushies and has been used too often as a bludgeon against our overseas cousins. I can see why they or any entity would want to rid the tower of Pataki's unfortunate choice of names.

I am very disturbed though about what it says about us. First of all, the PA sold our freedom on a symbolic level for a less than 5% rental stake. How much would actual freedom cost? 40%?

More disturbing is the message about real estate. Eight years after 9/11, this behemoth office tower has exactly one tenant. Maybe it shouldn't be built? The thought of a hundred+ story darkened lighthouse keeping watch over the city is very grim indeed. Would it mean New York is officially done?

On the bright side, real estate gluts are good for artists but what tends to happen here in hard times is that you overpay AND have broken-window blight next door.

I do no wish to be a downer on a gorgeous Spring day but if that vertical shaft is a thermometer, today's reading looks rather chilly.

Update: Coincidentally, today's Leonard Lopate show has an excellent discussion about the evolving meaning of Freedom.

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