An Uproar Is All That Rises From Ground Zero
December 15, 2003
The city-state agency that's charged with overseeing the project has picked eight finalists in a contest to come up with a design for a fitting memorial to the World Trade Center victims. But after some early buzz about the winning entries, people are questioning whether any of them are any good.
From the start, the planning of the memorial, which is supposed to reflect the feelings of all New Yorkers about what happened at Ground Zero, seemed to be hijacked by the families of the victims. Their demand that nothing besides a memorial be built on the "footprints" of the former towers and that no new construction be allowed to encroach on the bedrock of the former buildings - where many of the bodies were recovered - has complicated efforts to come up with a rebuilt site that works for everybody.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined the "footprints" and "bedrock" brigade early on, but we clearly should never have gone there. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right when he cautioned that the residents of lower Manhattan don't want to live in a cemetery.
The firefighters have their own, perfectly reasonable demand, which is that in any memorial, the names of their dead comrades should be set apart from the other victims by including their fire department rankings.
Then there's the question of what, besides the memorial and the glass spire, should be built at Ground Zero. The developer who holds the lease on the property wants 10 million square feet of office space, which would probably be profitable for him, but would be absolutely appalling for the rest of us. The trade center area was stark, ugly and overbuilt before, and it would be terrible if we repeated that mistake by creating another commercial jungle.
Watching all the wrangling over how to rebuild gets pretty tiresome. By contrast, the touching memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing seemed to go up effortlessly, and almost overnight - but that site was only three acres and it was Oklahoma City. Bitter battles were also fought over the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial in Washington before it became one of the most frequently visited memorials in the country. And this is New York City, where for every proposed public project, there are a million competing issues pulling in different directions. Ground Zero also happens to be a lot bigger than the Vietnam memorial site, and there's a lot more money at stake.
Personally, I'd like the site to have a moving memorial, a place to reflect on what happened there and a reminder of what New Yorkers lost. I couldn't care less about footprints or bedrock, but I do want some beautiful, open, green space that has nothing to do with mourning, where people can walk and sit and enjoy the city.