Rebuilding at Ground Zero

Will Any of the Possibilities Really Be Considered?

Other ideas concern what to build. Ed Ott, director of public policy for the Central Labor Council, says it's time to look at extending the LIRR from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and even building a light rail that connects ferry terminals from river to river.

"A lot of what's being considered are economic incentives for companies to stay in Lower Manhattan," says James Parrott, deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. "It would be better to use those resources for infrastructural investments in mass transit. Lower Manhattan would end up with a 21st-century mass transit system. That's the most cost-effective incentive system government can provide."

The block grants funding the rebuilding are usually earmarked to serve low- to moderate-income people. Clearly, if housing is built on this site, it must include a significant portion of truly affordable housing. Why not also create facilities for downtown's embattled printing industry to regroup? It would certainly be cheaper than paying the printers to move to Queens, as the city does now, or letting them go out of business and fire their employees. Why not help independent businesses across the city get a leg up by giving them preference to locate in the new complex at affordable rents?

Critics maligned a recent exhibit of World Trade Center designs at the Max Protetch Gallery for jumping the gun and dreaming too far. One can't help but think that some of the backlash comes from a mistaken notion that design is stupid, an extravagance, a waste of time. Architectural forms take on the status of glacial deposits in New York. The streets are "urban canyons." The buildings are natural formations. Why fight geology? This method of thinking nicely serves the interests of those architects who love to plow the city with glass towers that coldly celebrate our diminishment, our division into little boxes.

The most wonderful part of that heroically impractical exhibit is that it imparts the opposite message: that the 16-acre World Trade Center site could look stunning. The best designs at the Protetch exhibit are barely that—more meditations, visions, rumors. One thinks of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's Trade Center as meditative forest of leaning trees, or a series of slender towers bounded by a band of public space. While the orphic egg for global conflict resolution doesn't stand a chance of being built, the point is that the new site's looks should be as meaningful as its content.

Similarly, at a recent hearing on the Trade Center site, New Yorkers offered a variety of ideas to bring the oxygen back downtown, from turning West Street into a landscaped boulevard to building renewably fueled green buildings on the site. For the memorial, they said, plant 11 trees; have a thin layer of water washing over the names of the dead; use the footprints of the original towers for reflecting pools. "The memorial should be as multicultural as the people who worked in the World Trade Center," said a former Windows on the World manager.

And it could be. Funded by $20 billion in federal money, it should be extraordinary and encompassing. Thus far, the LMDC has restricted itself to the role of military provisioners. They will decide how much of what will go where, hand a shopping list to Silverstein, and then hold a broader, open competition for only the memorial part of the site.

This is not what we need. And public officials surely don't need to be doling out huge grants and tax incentives to beg big businesses to hang out for a few more years, returning nothing to the commonweal except their shopping dollars, until they can wring more free money from us the next year.

One example of the fruitlessness of these sorts of endeavors occurred just last week, when Goldman Sachs decided to abandon New York City in its time of need. Sachs announced plans to ferry its equity trading department to a new $1 billion complex the company is building in Jersey City that will alter the Jersey skyline with the state's tallest skyscraper and help secure the Garden State's fiscal future for years to come.

You would think the leader of the authority fighting to keep companies from fleeing the city would at least be able to keep his own former employer here. But as we learned during the last fiscal crisis, just because bankers can't see fit to invest in New York by no means assures that they won't continue to run New York on their terms. Reverend Peter Laarman of Judson Memorial Church said it best at a fall conference called Rebuilding New York for All New Yorkers: "We need to be rebuilding with equity and imagination." Amen. Now is the time for watching out. The LMDC is in "listening mode" until March 15. Then they act.

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