Rebuilding Ground Zero
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KWAME HOLMAN: Work goes on at the World Trade Center site of the September 11 attack, and will for months. Digging out, hauling debris, and praying for the dead continue. As completion of the cleanup inches closer, so does the need to answer the inevitable question: What will be built here? A big first step was taken earlier this month when New York Governor George Pataki announced the creation of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation. It’s charged with overseeing a rebuilding plan for the 16-acre site near the tip of Manhattan that also will revitalize the surrounding community left devastated by the disaster.
The site sits at the crossroads of one of the largest business districts in the nation; even today, nearly 300,000 people live and work here, just to the East is the New York Stock Exchange and the financial district. To the north: Fashionable Tribeca, Little Italy and Chinatown, neighborhoods where business revenues are down as much as 70%. When they stood, the Twin Towers supplied offices for 50,000. Destroyed were 29 million square feet of space, or 30% of the office stock in Lower Manhattan. Basic infrastructure– transportation, communications and power– need to be rebuilt. Con-Edison, the local power company, lost two substations and still relies on emergency generators. Deep beneath the Trade Center site, tracks and stations for the New York subway and New Jersey commuter trains were badly damaged.
The clearing and shoring-up operations are expected to be complete by the middle of next year, about the same time officials hope to have a development plan in place. Among the biggest questions facing officials is, how to build a suitable memorial to the nearly 4,000 people killed in the Trade Center attack.
MARGARET WARNER: Our man in New York, Robert MacNeil, takes it from there.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: And joining me to discuss the future of the Trade Center site are Marilyn Taylor, chairman of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, a New York architecture firm. Her firm is advising Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein. She is also a member of the New York City infrastructure taskforce, a coalition of designers and architects working on Trade Center issues. Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for the New York Times; William Gilchrist, a member of the regional urban design team for the American institute of architects, and director of the Birmingham, Alabama, Department of Planning; and Edward Linenthal, author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory. He is professor of religion and American culture at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: I would like to ask each of you, starting with you, Miss Taylor: This site has an owner; it also has a leaseholder, Mr. Silverstein, who paid $3.2 billion for his lease. What moral claim do the rest of us have, the public, to have a say in what is done with this site?
MARYILYN TAYLOR, Architect: Well, given the fact that this is a public site, and even in the eyes of Larry Silverstein, I think the public has every moral claim to have a say and to have an appropriate say about the future of the site, about every aspect from the memorial to the rebuilding and how those are integrated together, and to have that in a timely fashion so the necessary decisions can be taken.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do you agree with that, Mr. Muschamp, and if so, who has the right to have a say?
HERBERT MUSCHAMP, The New York Times: The world community. I mean, I think that this is a piece of global history that fell in our front yard that we didn’t want, nobody foresaw, but here it is. I disagree with Marilyn only on one point, which is the issue of timeliness, because I think it’s going to take the city a very long time to digest the meaning of this. I think it’s exposed a lot of issues that need to be discussed publicly before we are even really ready to think about the design of either a memorial or of buildings that might go up there.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Mr. Linenthal, do you agree that we, the public, and the world community have a right to say what is done with this site?
EDWARD LINENTHAL, Author, The Unfinished Bombing: I think there is a kind of enfranchisement that comes from almost a worldwide bereaved community here, and perhaps the Oklahoma City National Memorial is in some ways, anyway, a model where family members and survivors became a very important part of the construction of the memorial. And people have asked me often what should be done in New York, and of course that is the decision of even as varied a community as New York City. I think the process is perhaps even more important than what is ultimately done. I mean, on one end of the pole, you have elements of civic renewal. “We must rebuild as an act of protest, and renew our skyline.” At the other end, the argument that this is ground radically transformed by this horrific act that has taken place differs from Oklahoma in that that is an open grave, and the cremated remains of thousands of people, and including, problematically, the perpetrators themselves, make this a charged place in the way that the Murrah footprint was not, because the final remains came out of the Murrah footprint on May 29, when the building was imploded. So there are many interests I think that need to be heard, and the process– one that I would hope would be thoughtful and deliberate and wise– needs to take place. From my perspective, the focus on design, while understandable, has emerged a bit too quickly.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Mr. Gilchrist, what do you think the process should be to come up with… to collect all the various views and to come up with the right kind of design project?
WILLIAM GILCHRIST, Urban Planner: Well, I want to first say that I agree with my colleagues that the process does need to be inclusive. I go one step further. Architecture inherently is a public process. Whatever we build, whatever we design, contributes to the physical character of community and space. And we also have processes set up to ensure that the buildings are done contextually and done in a way that is also promoting safety and welfare for the community. I think the process really needs to open up to the community as a whole. Certainly the expertise of the design professions is going to be paramount in achieving the appropriate response, but you have a community now that is really having to go through a healing process. I think we are talking more about recovery than just rebuilding. So hopefully there can be some sort of public forum established that meets through some regular schedule that actually convenes the various constituents within the New York community to address some of the concerns that they would like to have addressed in the reconstruction of that site and also the commemoration of the people who were lost.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Mr. Muschamp, you have recently in the Times criticized– and you hinted at it a moment ago– what you described as a sort of rush to corporate decision making in this thing. Just elaborate on that a little bit.
HERBERT MUSCHAMP: Well, I think as time goes by, the process has changed. It’s an unfolding situation. I’ve been covering it off the news as it has changed in people’s minds. I think it’s absolutely true that a lot of it has been about recovery and about the psychology of recovery. It serves a therapeutic purpose, in some sense, for architects, and it’s to be valued as such. I think we’re getting to the point now where it’s possible to separate out immediate and necessary goals, specifically in the area of transportation, from longer range… from medium and long-range goals. We know now that there really is not the need that some expected for office space in Lower Manhattan. Hopefully there will be at some point later, but there isn’t that now. There is an immediate need for… basically to repair the damage to the transportation system that has kept people from getting there safely and conveniently. And there is also an opportunity here to rethink the way the city relates to the region in terms of its rebuilding its infrastructure. And those… I think we all agree that these are… You know, the sooner we get to these things, the better.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Miss Taylor, what principles, what philosophy do you think should govern the search for the right solution here?
MARILYN TAYLOR: Well, when I say timely, I think we all understand here that we are talking about a rebuilding process that is five or ten or fifteen years long, and in some senses is indeterminate. We will make decisions now without knowing what the final outcomes will be. In terms of principles, I think we have to balance, right now, the challenge of maintaining as much openness as we can for those future solutions with decisions that will have to be made relatively soon. Obviously, restoring the transportation is one of those, and it’s important to do it not as fast as we can, but as well as we can. We have a chance, because of this enormous rent in the infrastructure, to build it better than it ever was. We also have a way now to engage in the process of thinking about the memorialization, which is such an important part of what is going on now, by proposing ways in the interim for people who are coming to the site to bear witness, to see this place.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: As they do now.
MARILYN TAYLOR: As they do. They come in numbers now. The idea that that can wait I think is preposterous because they are coming in numbers now, and they are mixing with the tens of thousands of people who are going back to work and going back to their homes, and I think we need to make that an experience that is… Gives them more of a sense of repose, more information, and more opportunity to come and reflect and even contribute their thoughts about…
ROBERT MAC NEIL: A kind of interim memorial experience while the final memorial is… Evolves. Mr. Linenthal, how do you balance the demands of memorializing this experience and the need to recreate the urban experience and revitalize that part of one of America’s… If not the leading city in America, one of them?
EDWARD LINENTHAL, Author, The Unfinished Bombing: Well, this is a real challenge in New York, more difficult perhaps than Oklahoma City, where memorial sensibilities took over fairly quickly over the early impulse to rebuild. It is going to be a great challenge to do this. Memorials function in so many different ways. They are not just a place of remembrance or mourning or reflection, but certainly these memorials to mass death. And Oklahoma City is really the first memorial where we intensely remember an act of mass death. We have either effaced these places from our landscape or returned them to former use. Oklahoma City is the first time we have done this. Now we think about this with New York and with the Pentagon and even with this rural area in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There was a kind of intermediate memorial in Oklahoma City, and that was the fence around the Murrah site, which became a place where people left devotional offerings of all kinds that are archived in the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The evocative power of ruins which are at the site today have become a kind of pilgrimage site for many people. So again, I think a process that allows this discussion to go on is a very, very important one. And whatever kind of balance emerges out of this will be one that comes out of the community conversation. The other thing I would like to say about this that I found unique about Oklahoma City is that the time between event and memorialization has become tremendously compressed in our society. The language of memorialization, the urge to memorialize, the conversation about memorializing is now a way for people to engage the meaning of the event itself. For family members and survivors in Oklahoma City seared with immediate loss, their work on the memorial, a kind of active grief, if you will, was a way for them to make a statement about what happened on April 19, 1995. And I think whatever kinds of memories we emplace on the landscape, be they rebuilding, be they memorialization, will be a way for this first take of interpretation on what we believe as a culture about the meaning of September 11. So I think the language of memorialization here is not a distant language of remembrance; it’s an immediate language of engagement.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Mr. Gilchrist, how would you balance the needs to… The need to memorialize with the need to rebuild and make vital again that important part of the city?
WILLIAM GILCHRIST: Yeah, I would agree with the comments that were just made. One thing that really struck me in looking at the way the citizens responded to the event itself was that they really claimed the street, which is the primary public domain, as a gallery for putting up pictures of lost ones, of loved ones; really an attempt to try to retrieve and find members of their families and friends who were missing, whom they had lost. And over time, that became more of a tribute and an interim memorial of sorts for those persons who were lost. So I think part of the balance can be achieved not just by looking at the site itself, but also recognizing that an entire part of the city was impacted, and the street is probably the most important public domain that we have where we may be able to accommodate some of that commemoration beyond just the site itself. But I do think the points made about process that brings in conversation by the community, by those individuals who lost family and friends in the tragic events itself, I think that is a critical part of the process in terms of determining that balance. Ultimately the private property interests I’m sure will be addressed, and addressed appropriately. But the real effort here I think is going to be needed to address the public cry for healing and for reconciliation.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Mr. Muschamp, with so much emphasis on democracy in 9this decision making, can that produce great architecture? Can the site be developed in a way that, a hundred years from now, will be remarkable and valued?
HERBERT MUSCHAMP: Yes.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: With that kind of input?
HERBERT MUSCHAMP: I think for that to happen, the discussion is going to have to go beyond the local impact, and I think… This may seem like a callous thing to say, but I think it’s going to have to go beyond the issue of loss and the suffering the many survivors have endured. I really think the events of that day exposed to us a crisis. Basically there is a disconnect between our technology and our cultural awareness globally, and if we don’t somehow try to deal with that dimension, that global dimension, we are missing out on something of enormous potential. It has enormous potential to give the city a new relationship to the world.
MARILYN TAYLOR: I think that above all, what has to happen here is it has to be exceptional. It has to go from being the third largest downtown in the United States to the most exceptional urban place we can imagine, and at the time it’s realized, the most exceptional place in the world
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Miss Taylor, and gentlemen, thank you.