Let's hear your thoughts. How would you fix the Statue of Liberty so that visiting her crown can once again be a reality?
Some background: earlier this week, Congress asked the National Park Service what it would take to restore public access to the top the Statue of Liberty. Visiting the crown had been a tradition at the Statue for many years. It had always been a difficult process; it had always been hot, muggy, and stinky experience; it had always taken a long time to climb, and then provided only a brief look out the window before having to move along; and, access had always been somewhat limited. In the years before September 11, only the first two boat loads of people had the opportunity to climb to the top.
When the terrorist attacks happened, many monuments were shut down because of a perceived threat. Because full access to the Statue of Liberty has not been restored since that day in 2001, the perception is that it is for fear of another attack. New York representative Weiner has even claimed, that if true, the terrorists "have won". The Park Service response has been that the Statue remains closed because of health and safety code issues present within the structure.
OK, so how do we fix this? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Some points that you may want to include in the discussion -
1) Should access be restored? If risk is involved, is it worth the chance that someone will get hurt or killed in an accident while climbing to the top? Just because it had been done for years and years prior, is that justification for restoring access now?
2) Can we compare the risk involved while climbing Lady Liberty (a man-made structure) with the risk involved climbing Yosemite's Half Dome (man-made cables assist hikers up a steep pitch, a pitch that has taken the lives of visitors)? If we accept the risk at Half Dome, can we apply that risk to the Statue?
3) Should we alter the Statue of Liberty to make it conform to safety codes? The Park Service says to meet code, they would have to cut into the statue and provide emergency access for escape or rescue.
4) Should we alter the Statue to provide easier access to the top? Can we add a bigger stairway, or perhaps an elevator in place of the original staircase?
5) Should we allow very limited access to the top, say no more than 50 people a day? Perhaps we could create a daily lottery in which the winners are awarded the opportunity to access Liberty's crown.
I contacted the National Park Service to ask if an elevator had been suggested as a solution. The reply was one I had never considered before, an answer I wish I had heard Deputy Director Wenk provide to Congress the other day. Spokesperson David Barna said,
Keep in mind that the Statue is a piece of art. Tearing out the spiral, double helix staircase designed by Bartholdi would run counter to NPS' mission of "preserving unimpaired" the historic fabric of the Statue of Liberty.
I had been trying to solve this problem as an engineer, viewing the structure as a historic building, when in fact, it really is a giant piece of art! The attached photo of the spiral staircase reveals the artists touch in something as simple as a staircase. He could have put in something very industrial, considering it is hidden beneath Liberty's shell, but he didn't, and that really needs to be considered. So, in my opinion, altering the Statue is out.
My solution would be to provide limited access to the top. If risk is involved, it does need to be put in perspective, and I think it is fair to compare it with other risk we accept around the national park system. I accept that if I have a heart attack at 10,000 feet on Mt Rainier, any rescue attempt may take awhile. It is the nature of the mountain that I'll be left vulnerable for some time. It seems fair to me, that climbers of the Statue of Liberty should recognize the risk; if something "bad" were to happen to them while they were in the Statue, every effort would be made to help them, but it is the nature of climbing the interior of a giant statue that rescue may take longer than normal. Probably for most people, the risk would be worth the reward of Liberty's crown.
How should access be limited? Is there a "fair" way? I'd say provide some type of free lottery. Every day something like 50 people, or 10 groups of 10, or some other type of limited grouping, would have the opportunity to be selected in a computer controlled lottery system. But provide grouping, so that couples, or families, or other arbitrary groups that visit the Statue of Liberty together, would have the opportunity to share the view from the crown together.
What are YOUR thought?