“Urban Design is Thinking Retroactively” in Fight Against Terror, Says Architect Claire Weisz

In a discussion with the World Economic Forum, the principal of WXY says designers and cities must work together to create cities resilient to future attack.
Urban Design Terrorism

Brooklyn’s 11 Metrotech Security by WXY Architecture + Urban Design. Courtesy Paul Warchol

In just two weeks time, world leaders in business, tech, and politics (President Trump included) will descend upon Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting. This year’s summit, themed “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” will focus on global security, among other topics.

But what role does design play in this discussion, especially on the domestic front? In an interview published Friday on the WEF’s website, Ian Klaus of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs spoke to Claire Weisz, principal of the Manhattan-based architecture and planning firm WXY, about how both design and diplomacy can protect cities in an age where urban centers are rapidly changing and increasingly at risk.

Urban Design Terrorism

The aftermath of the October 31 truck attack in New York City. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Weisz, citing New York’s October 31 truck attack along the Hudson River Park’s bike path, argued that civic space is now one of the most vulnerable areas within cities. In spite of this, she argued that urban designers are lagging behind in developing solutions. “We need to recognize that, just as planes were weapons in 9/11, cars are now weapons,” Weisz said. “One of the biggest problems is that everyone is fighting the last war, in terms of urban design. Urban design is thinking retroactively. Police departments and counter-terrorism experts could be asking urban designers to act proactively.”

Weisz further highlighted the importance of re-examining pedestrian access, but also listening to the concerns of local communities. With regard to the Hudson River Park attack, she said, “People had been asking the city to close off spaces where vehicles could drive down the bike path by accident. But the spaces were never closed off. So it was very easy for this person to drive down the bike path and kill people. But the city then reacted by putting up barriers for bicycles, not for cars…the police should have been discussing a better strategy rather than putting up a bunch of jersey barriers. Again, I call it fighting the last war, because next time it will be someone on a motorcycle.”

Weisz recommended a “layered” approach to security, such as trees and strategic bollards, rather than a one-size-fits all, fortress-like solution that cuts residents off from valuable civic space. “The more shared information—whether from the UN or elsewhere—about what makes a place both safe and resilient, about what kinds of strategies building owners, local neighborhoods and governments can use and what kinds of layers can work, will help.”

Read the full Q&A here.

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Categories: Cities, Ideas

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