David Dixon


Terrorism and enhanced security concerns are firmly planted in the American psyche. It is hard for most Americans to accept the need to balance the risks of terrorism against the costs and benefits of responding to these risks. In the absence of quantitative measures for most risk assessments, Americans will need to establish qualitative measures for deciding where and how to respond to terrorism. Architects, planners, and others who deal daily with the qualitative issues of city building can play an important leadership role in this effort, in part because the people who traditionally make risk assessments cannot. This qualitative assessment will need to address such issues as evaluating competing claims for scarce dollars in building projects; finding a balance between enhanced security and lively public realm, a balance that will probably be different in every case; and even determining which buildings and spaces should be viewed as potential targets in the planning and design process. We need a broad-based national dialogue to ensure that we maintain America’s commitment to building livable communities when we make choices about how to make our cities more secure against possible terrorist action. Security is an important goal, but if it trumps all other values of a democratic society—if we commit the same mistakes that endowed a small Connecticut town with a windowless school—we will destroy by our own hand much more than a terrorist act ever could.