AAG report: Security at Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial

Inside the water spray

In this first blog I thought I’d report back from an interesting conference in New York at the Association of American Geographers, Annual Meeting and offer a few thoughts on the 9/11 memorial. I was involved in co-organising a couple of sessions on Economic Affects with Ben Anderson and Derek McCormack which looked at the relation between affect, economy and politics, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis. Some very interesting papers there and also in the 3 sessions I attended on Geographies of Security and Surveillance organised by David Murakami Wood and Steve Graham. I chaired a session featuring some really fascinating papers on borders and drones which drew up some important questions on bodies, borders and decisions; wider political thought in the relation to drones and robotic deployment, and especially the logics and rationalities that justify and legitimise the use of these technologies. I even saw a drone in the airport, I think it was a private or commercial toy, but it was odd seeing it buzz around the terminal especially when I couldn’t see the operator! Seeing drones in these spaces also sparks off other thoughts around counter-narratives, see the Funambulist for an interesting counter-factual rendering of drone futures, inspired just as I was, by an encounter with a drone at JFK terminal 3.

During the down time I sneaked out to explore Manhattan (the last time I was there was a geography fieldtrip in 2000) and visited the massive building site that is now ground zero and the 9/11 memorial. Michael Arad, the designer of the memorial, also gave a talk at the AAG, and it just so happened that it was also the 19th anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993 on the day I was there. The 9/11 memorial was, actually, very beautiful especially given the contrast of the building and construction going on around it. Although 1 World Trade Centre (formally known as the Freedom Tower) is almost built, apparently many of the other new potential buildings are awaiting prospective tenants and leaseholders before construction will begin, presumably financial confidence is still lacking in the current climate, an issue actually brought to roost in Paul Langley’s talk on the relation between confidence, capital and politics during our Economic Affects sessions.

However, one of the things that struck me most was the utter prevalence of security around and within the site. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise given the intensification and amplification of security measures sparked off since September 11th and the global war on terror, but it did seem ironic that they proliferate its flash point. NYPD security cameras were everywhere; in a mobile tower that raised and lowered, and even discretely embedded into some of the lampposts on the site. I had to pass through security check-point, removed belt and baggage which were x-rayed as if in an airport, in-fact, several NYC sites necessitate this practice now and it becomes almost a habit. I hope our undergraduates on the fieldtrip to New York in a few weeks time get the chance to see this because it really brings home how issues of security/surveillance, geopolitics, memory, mourning and investment capital have come together. In particular, it demands that we understand and question how security practices become commonplace, part of the ordinary everyday. As Klaus, Alasdair and I, together with PIR, construct our new MSc programme on Geopolitics and Security, these are just some of the issues our new students will be thinking about in much more detail.

Peter Adey, RHUL


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