Five years post-9/11, survey shows most consider skyscrapers safe
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Five years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a majority of respondents in a University of Florida study say they felt safe living and working in skyscrapers despite believing they are terrorist targets.
Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they considered high-rises to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, but an even larger number, 60 percent, reported feeling safe in these buildings, the UF study found. The findings were from interviews with 384 people walking into one of the seven tallest structures in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 14, a month before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“People may still believe skyscrapers are terrorist (targets) but so are subways, stadiums and airplanes and that doesn’t stop people from riding to work, going to football games or flying across the country to see their family,” said Brandon Moore, who did the research for his master’s thesis in building construction at UF.
If anything, the skyscraper has become even more popular since Sept. 11, with the number under construction nearly doubling, Moore said. Between 2002 and 2006, 1,334 skyscrapers in the United States were built or scheduled to be completed, compared with 593 from 1996 to 2000, he said.
“Skyscrapers are the biggest man-made achievement we see on a day-to-day basis,” Moore said. “They have too much symbolic value to be toppled by terrorists.”
The stature of these buildings in America’s cultural and physical landscape was recognized by survey respondents. Sixty-five percent said they were proud of the nation’s skyscrapers, and 56 percent said they could identify cities by their skylines.
Moore said the findings could apply elsewhere because Tampa is a typical mid- to large-sized American city, which, like other parts of the South and West, is booming. Tampa has 57 skyscrapers, the tallest being the 579-foot AmSouth Building. Sixteen high-rises are under construction.
Although Tampa may not be considered a major terrorist target like Manhattan, a highly publicized incident involving a small private plane crashing into the 42-story Bank of America building occurred on Jan. 5, he said.
Besides symbolic value, economics and conservation may also explain the skyscraper’s growing popularity; it allows the maximum amount of people in the smallest amount of space, Moore said.
“Suburbia is losing its appeal with strip mall after strip mall, subdivision after subdivision and the hassle of having to drive everywhere with the cost of fuel,” he said. “People are starting to want to live in the city, where they can walk to work or walk to the gym.”
Building vertically instead of horizontally makes sense because a building that takes up the space of one city block can house an entire community, with medical offices, pharmacies, grocery stores and apartments that house hundreds of residents, Moore said.
“With the world’s growing population and diminishing supply of land, the skyscraper is the building of the future, even though it’s been around for more than a century,” he said.
The skyscraper was invented after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the downtown’s wooden-framed, low-level buildings, Moore said. Steel was used to rebuild downtown because it was more fire resistant, and one of its unforeseen physical properties was that it allowed buildings to be taller, he said.
The world’s first skyscraper was Chicago’s 10-story Home Insurance Building built in 1885, but once New York approved skeleton steel construction in its building code at the turn of the century it quickly became the nation’s skyscraper capital. It was not until 1974 that Chicago regained distinction with construction of the Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building at 1,451 feet until the 1,483-foot twin Petronas Towers were built in Malaysia in 1998.
Today the skyscraper is something of an “Asian Tiger” because of its stronghold in China, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan, Moore said. Eight of the world’s 10 highest buildings are in Asia, including the tallest, the 1,671-foot Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan. The other two on the list are the Sears Tower, fourth, and the Empire State Building in New York City, ninth.
“With scarce land, booming populations and thriving economies, it is no wonder that many Asian nations are taking the lead in skyscraper construction,” Moore said. “As pagodas and shrines disappear, the skyscraper is taking their place.”