Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Rethinking Ground Zero
Editorial, New York Times, April 24, 2005

Three and a half years after the attack on Lower Manhattan, too many of the elaborate and even inspiring plans for rebuilding seem frozen on paper. That is particularly true for the building that the world most connects with the idea of rebirth at the World Trade Center site: Gov. George Pataki's Freedom Tower.

The tower, a stunning creation forged by the opposing architects Daniel Libeskind and David Childs, is apparently being sent back to the drawing boards, after word came from security experts at the New York Police Department that they have problems with the building as planned. Since the details about the Freedom Tower were first unveiled to the public in December 2003, that delay by the department is unreasonable. Still, it would obviously be irresponsible not to take the objections of the police into consideration, however late they are in arriving.

While reasonable safety concerns may require changes in the building, the "beacon" promised by Mr. Libeskind cannot under any circumstances be replaced with a dreary, fear-inspired fortress. The tower could become overly bulky if extra security demands are simply grafted onto the present plan. It already calls for a massive building, with too much extra office space - added to suit the developer - and a very tall spire for those who want a perpetual sign of defiance to terrorists. Nothing would better express capitulation to terrorism than a large skyscraper that looks like a vertical bunker.

New Yorkers need an inspiring building at the World Trade Center site, one that helps mend the still-aching hole in the skyline. They might not need a tower that reaches to Mr. Libeskind's symbolic 1,776 feet, but the structure must still work as the focal point of the site. It cannot become a mostly vacant office tower that caters too much to the purported needs of the present site developer, Larry Silverstein.

Mr. Silverstein, backed by billions of dollars in insurance money he received from his lease on the twin towers, has already constructed one office building adjacent to the site. So far, he has not announced a major tenant. If he continues to demand that the site provide anything like the 10 million square feet of office space lost with the twin towers, he will be serving his own needs more than the community's or even, at this point, the market's. The World Trade Center site must be a treasured public space and a critical piece of a renewed community, not just another huge commercial development looming over a few public amenities.

Governor Pataki, whose legacy will be written with the rebuilding at ground zero one way or another, is the crucial figure in this new chapter in the post-9/11 story. He needs to encourage Goldman Sachs & Company energetically to keep its building downtown, and push Washington for help in bringing down the old Deutsche Bank building, now shrouded mournfully in black netting. He must make certain that the uplifting Santiago Calatrava PATH station is built as planned. And he should re-engage Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who seems obsessed with other development plans for Manhattan's West Side at a time when Lower Manhattan is urgently in need of his attention.

If the Freedom Tower design is to be redone, Mr. Pataki must make certain the public is allowed to participate. The current design was chosen after a closely watched and hugely publicized competition in which the people of New York - and the nation and the world - made their opinions known every step of the way. If, after all that effort, the plan is suddenly replaced by something far less magnificent than what was promised, the public will have a right to feel betrayed.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

Take me back to learn more