RAY SUAREZ: By now, New Yorkers are used to this view: Lower Manhattan without its massive architectural anchors. For three decades, the twin towers soared twice as high as the rest of the neighborhood. Today at ground zero, a steady stream of humanity hovers, flocking to stare at, and photograph, an empty space, visiting what is essentially a construction site.
CHARLES GARGANO: It doesn't appear that way, but there is a lot of work going on underground.
RAY SUAREZ: Charles Gargano is vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that owns the land where the towers stood. Inside this tube, the number one and number nine subway started running again this past weekend. Next year, authorities hope to reconnect a separate rail line, the path train to New Jersey.
CHARLES GARGANO: In the next couple of months, we will have a wonderful wall surrounding the site, not your typical construction site plywood wall with little holes in that you peek in, this is a 13-foot high, beautiful viewing wall.
RAY SUAREZ: A wall that also lists the names of the dead. On Sunday, officials showed off the first portion of the temporary memorial. But when it comes to the site's permanent future, things get complicated and divisive in a hurry. In the days after September 11, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani floated one idea: Rebuild the old towers. Jim West says, "amen to that." He works just one block from the towers site.
JAMES WEST: I really miss the presence of the World Trade Center, that looming immensity. And I really miss that, and I would like to see something large, massive, built there again. Some of it's defiance, some of it is. You know, it's... you can't take this away from me. But... and I do feel a possessiveness about it, which I never would have said about the World Trade Center before.
RAY SUAREZ: It's a weird feeling for West. He, and many others, found the towers downright ugly from the moment they went up in the '70s. In fact, the joke at the time was that the workers mistakenly put up the boxes that contained the actual towers. The rebuilding process is being coordinated by an agency called the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The LMDC commissioned an architecture firm, and released six blueprints, in July, to start the public discussion. The agency specified what was on the site originally, 12 million square feet of office and hotel space, and added a transportation center and a memorial. The plans unleashed a torrent of New York "boos." Columnists called the plans "K-Mart Sterile," a product of "Soviet state planning," and the result of "architects tuned to easy-listening radio." Editorial cartoonists were among those suggesting the LMDC caved to the economic interests of the landowner, the port Authority, and its commercial leaseholders. In response, the LMDC lowered its requirements for office space, and issued new invitations to architects and planners around the world to submit their ideas. LMDC President Lou Tomson:
LOU TOMSON: This is a very transparent process, and, you know, transparency is messy. What was the old joke about, "you wouldn't want to see..."
RAY SUAREZ: "Sausage being made."
LOU TOMSON: Right, or legislation. And this is a little like making legislation in public. We also learned that people believed that we needed to be more inventive, more innovative, in terms of how the site would function.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Koo says the LMDC shortchanged the concept of memorial. Koo's father died in the south tower.
MICHAEL KOO: This place is a special place for me, because they never recovered anything from my dad. And I can... I can't project, you know, where pieces of him fell down into the area, but I do remember where the south tower stood. So I'd like to come down to this area, the footprints of the towers, and try to, kind of feel like this space speaks to me, and it speaks to my dad, and what he used to do when he was alive here.
RAY SUAREZ: The concept of hallowed ground was emphasized repeatedly by members of the public, who submitted their ideas to a project called "Imagine New York" -- part design competition, part brainstorm, and part therapy. Imagine New York collected 19,000 ideas for the future of the Trade Center neighborhood. Holly Leicht is co-director.
HOLLY LEICHT: There were definitely themes that came up again and again-- themes of community, themes of having something amazing downtown. I think the way that it was phrased by the public was to have architecture that grabs the soul; a place that has cultural amenities, that has civic centers, a playground, things that people can both remember and reflect through a memorial, but also live and celebrate life.
RAY SUAREZ: And very simply, green is huge.
HOLLY LEICHT: ( Laughs )
RAY SUAREZ: This is one group that wants to see a lot of parkland.
HOLLY LEICHT: And that's pretty typical. And I would say that's one thing that the LMDC Plans did get right, is that they... there is an emphasis that downtown needs green space.
RAY SUAREZ: Historian Mike Wallace agrees, but he says any open space has to be an accessible place to gather.
MIKE WALLACE: So what I can perhaps bring, is the notion that there are sites in New York City which can be drawn upon, that come out of our own past and our own experience. Union Square, which was one of the great public gathering spaces of New York City in the Civil War, and for much of the 20th century, and then kind of lost that. Well, interestingly, for although this is the Internet era, people in the aftermath of this crisis wanted to hang out. They wanted to be together in public space. I'd love to see something that builds in some of that quality. It is something where all the people who work in this area could come, could hang out, can lounge, can flirt.
RAY SUAREZ: What they don't need, said Wallace, is more offices. For decades, downtown buildings have lost high-profile business tenants to a rising New Jersey skyline to the West, and to midtown Manhattan to the North. Whatever ends up on the Trade Center site downtown, the first structure, a smaller number 7 World Trade Center now under way, won't be up for three years. That leaves plenty of time for debate and controversy. It's a huge undertaking, but as one official told us, "this is New York, there aren't many small projects."