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After Sept. 11


Safeguards in cities could get new look

Hidden barriers key to antiterror plan

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 7/7/2002

A series of occasional articles about security, buildings and cities after Sept. 11.

Part 1
Safeguards in cities could get new look

Part 2
Architects want safe structures without creating a fortress mentality

Part 3
Sept. 11 pushes firms to suburbs

Rigidity and resilience: Engineers are designing new buildings to block a terrorist's destructive mission, while providing easy escape for occupants in an emergency.


The Security Infrastructure Partnership

American Society of Civil Engineers

National Fire Protection Association

Federal Emergency Management Agency

The National Institutes of Standards and Technology

Institute of Structural Engineers

American Society for Industrial Security

American Institute of Architects

American Association of Engineering Companies

Building Owners and Management Association

lanners in Washington, D.C., are preparing to recommend that government buildings and national landmarks be protected from terrorist attack by relatively simple landscaping techniques, such as raised concrete planters and benches, streetlamps, and even drinking fountains reinforced with high-strength steel.

Buffer zones in front of key government buildings would also be increased by eliminating street lanes now used for parking, according to a draft version of the National Capital Planning Commission's Urban Design and Security Plan, a long-awaited federal blueprint for protecting the nation's capital from attack by an explosives-laden vehicle.

The Jefferson and Lincoln memorials could be protected with grade changes that form barriers, the report says, and Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House should become a Paris-style park that can be reopened for parades or mass transit.

The $878 million plan - which would replace the capital's current haphazard system of concrete barriers, street closures, and temporary guardshacks - is part of a nationwide effort to redesign buildings, public facilities, and urban areas to make them more secure following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

In the future, for example, federal facilities, office buildings, and airports may be designed with lobbies and receiving areas set apart, so that people are screened at a distance and then funneled into the main part of buildings through a security ''throat.'' A redesign of this kind has been proposed for Los Angeles International Aiport, the scene of a deadly July Fourth shooting at the El Al ticket counter.

The Washington plan recommends a ''unified and coordinated approach'' that ''gracefully provides perimeter ... security, avoiding the monotony of endless lines of Jersey barriers and bollards, which only evoke defensiveness,'' according to the draft language.

After some points of contention are worked out with officials of the District of Columbia - who are concerned about traffic flow and the removal of parking lanes - as well as with a dozen federal agencies - which generally want more ''standoff'' space and more street closures - the plan is set to be released for public comment and then sent to President Bush and Congress.

Though the plan is specifically oriented to Washington, the strategies can be adopted by cities such as Boston, according to Boston developer Richard Friedman, chairman of the task force responsible for the report, and the Cambridge-based architectural firm that consulted on the plan. Reinforced benches, planters, and trash receptacles could replace Jersey barriers and steel fences at the new federal courthouse on Fan Pier or the federal building at City Hall Plaza, for example.

The idea is to improve security while maintaining public access and an attractive streetscape, said Alex Krieger, principal in the architectural firm Chan, Krieger in Cambridge, the lead consultant for the report. Otherwise security needs will be addressed with barricades and street and building closures, which ''will fundamentally change the public environment in ways that I don't think people are really aware of.''

The issues raised in the National Capital Planning Commission plan are typical of the emerging debate on how to strengthen the nation's physical landscape post-Sept. 11. Business and government leaders seek dramatic steps to deter future attack; architects and planners, on guard against what they view as excessive or unnecessary measures, are more attentive to aesthetics and public access.

Additionally, some doubts have already been raised about the cost-effectiveness of ''curbside security'' measures recommended in the commission's draft report.

Backers of the plan say the $878 million price tag is roughly $200 million more than what federal agencies would spend on protecting their properties on their own. Even so, the measures recommended in the report would not protect federal workers and visitors to Washington against a nuclear or biological attack or a suicide bomber on foot. In addition, some streets are so narrow in Washington that an explosives-laden truck could simply park in the middle of them and damage buildings on either side.

Oscar Newman, an architect and city planner who has served as a consultant to governments on security and design, said that the front yards of buildings can be landscaped to prevent a van from getting close. But such measures protect against perhaps 10 percent of possible attacks, he said. ''They are effective in reducing the risk you've thought of, but not the one you haven't thought of,'' he said.

Terrorists ''are people thinking long and hard about how to destroy major buildings and create chaos. If they see barriers and guards, they'll just think of another way in,'' added Newman, author of the 1973 book, ''Defensible Space,'' on using urban design to address crime.

Curbside security measures can make federal employees ''more comfortable coming to work in the morning, but there are just too many openings,'' Newman said, adding: ''If you have money for security, use 90 percent of it to go after the likely perpetrators - tracking them down in this country.''

Friedman - who was appointed by President Clinton to the National Capital Planning Commission and has remained to head the interagency task force on security under President Bush's commission chairman, John Cogbill III - said it was worthwhile to protect against vehicle bombs, which constitute 80 percent of terrorist attacks worldwide.

And there is no reason the barricades can't look nice, said Friedman, who has been distressed by the way ad-hoc security measures have sullied Pierre L'Enfant's time-honored design for the capital.

''We can have both good urban design and good security,'' Friedman said. The public realm should express the values of a free and open society, he said, while at the same time providing a formidable barrier to the kinds of attacks that can be defended against.

Friedman described the commission report as a ''work in progress,'' and stressed that several details needed to be ironed out with the many agencies and jurisdictions involved in the effort. ''Our goal is to reach consensus in the next 10 days, and have the report available in two weeks for public comment.''

The draft report details how the basic strategy - using landscaping, benches, and other ''street furniture'' to protect landmarks and buildings - could be implemented along streets and in front of buildings in nine distinct zones in Washington.

Along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol, for example, street furniture is mostly in place and just needs to be ''hardened,'' or replaced with steel parts deeply rooted into the sidewalk or pavement, the draft report says. The FBI and Department of Justice buildings are among those that could be protected in this way along the avenue.

The sidewalks and streets in the Federal Triangle zone, a tightly knit section of 1920s-era government buildings, need more work, the draft report says. But still relatively simple additions, such as a strong, low metal fence around rectangular planting beds at curbside, as well as additional fences and stone bollards.

Many of the buildings along Constitution and Independence avenues have the advantage of large setbacks from the street, which can be turned into buffer zones against truck bombs. Security improvements could actually make the area look more uniform and consistent, said Krieger, the consultant for the report.

The urban environment could also be enhanced while improving security in the Southwest district, south of the Mall, which is home to modernist landscaping and architecture similar to Government Center in Boston. The draft report recommends hiding concrete barriers in new planters.

It also calls for building on the campus-like settings of the State Department area, but the issue of closing or narrowing streets to extend sidewalks and buffer zones is hotly contested in that area. Some government agencies want greater buffer zones, but city officials are worried about losing dozens of parking spaces, and at possible restrictions on traffic flow.

The Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, meanwhile, could be protected by landscaping devices known as plinth walls that would encircle the landmarks with a raised platform of grass or plantings, the draft report says. A similar approach is being considered for the Washington Monument, where a kind of moat known as a ''haha wall'' would replace the Jersey barriers now ringing the obelisk.

The draft report also endorses the plan recently put forward by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to turn the closed section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House into a controlled-entry pedestrian park, but with a fine gravel surface similar to that used in the Tuilleries in Paris instead of grass.

Many of the strategies in the report could be employed in sensitive areas in Boston, Krieger said, including the entry to the waterfront park in front of the J. Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse on Fan Pier, which was closed for several months following Sept. 11, and City Hall Plaza, where the John F. Kennedy Federal Building must be protected.

That job could be done by placing ''hardened'' street furniture along a reestablished Hanover Street through the plaza, Krieger said. ''The last thing the plaza needs is more concrete barriers,'' he said.

Anthony Flint can be reached at flint@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/7/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.