Since the destruction of the World Trade Center in the attacks of September 11, 2001, here in New York City we have rebuilt two stadiums for our local baseball teams, Citi Field for the New York Mets and a new Yankee Stadium, added a staircase of questionable import in Times Square and rebuilt The Highline. During this same time, many urban gentrification projects have been launched and taken to completion all over this city, the Twin Towers II plan has been virtually ignored by higher powers. Some local leaders even floated the idea of a New York Jets Stadium on the west side of Manhattan. Ironically enough, even The Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, which was the first major building to be completed in Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, although it was already under construction in 2001, bears an uncanny resemblance to the fallen Twin Towers. If nothing else it serves as a continuing reminder of the hole in New York’s skyline, the proverbial soul of our beloved metropolis or as it has been called the “Ground Zero of National Paralysis.” Yet, here we are 8 1/2 years later and every time I walk or drive by Battery Park City, it looks nearly the same as it did when I lived there 7-8 years ago—-a construction site. This breaks my heart almost as much as the tragedy which occurred there on September 11, 2001.
Monument to Cowardice?
While persuasive arguments exist to modernize and remake the downtown financial district to suit the needs of a city looking forward to the next century rather than those of the prior one, the symbolism of making the skyline less of what it once was is not lost on many citizens of America and the World. Did we not repair the Pentagon to its original form, prior to the attacks? It is also not lost on me that their may be insufficient corporate demand to fill the World Trade Center were it to be re-built much in the same way again. Nevertheless, the tragedy has provided New York City with an opportunity to re-craft downtown for the next century. The dilemma of how far we should go in our dreams to rebuild bigger, better and stronger is only eclipsed by how little rebuilding we have done since 9/11 and how compromised is the existing plan of Studio Daniel Libeskind and his high profile collaborators, relative to the passion of architect Minoru Yamasaki which inspired their construction in the first place. Rebuilding efforts have been repeatedly stalled after legal fights with insurers, clashes over design and security and a failure to attract tenants. Under existing plans a glass skyscraper, formerly known as the “Freedom Tower” (which was appropriately labeled by journalist Nicole Gelinas as “a half-hollowed monument to cowardice”) but renamed One World Trade Center last year, will be the tallest building in the United States, at the symbolic height of 1776 feet, and the centerpiece of the new World Trade Center site. The site will also include a National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Work on the formerly named Freedom Tower officially began in late 2006 and is now scheduled to be completed sometime in 2013.
Rebuilding Ground Zero
This past week we learned that Oscar winning film director Steven Spielberg will make a TV documentary on the rebuilding of New York’s World Trade Center. The Science Channel reported that Spielberg would executive produce the six-part documentary series “Rebuilding Ground Zero”, due to be shown in 2011. Along with Project Rebirth this proves once again that so many projects can be taken to completion, even movies about the rebirth before an actual rebirth.
Twin Towers Alliance
The Twin Towers Alliance remains the conscience of a city, a country and the silent majority of American Citizens who do not embrace the project underway at the site of the former World Trade Center, but who individually lack a voice or have moved on to issues that they can affect in their own lives, having accepted almost that their leaders are no longer listening to them. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, or even a Democratic or Republican one, or for that matter even an American one, there is a Worldwide Coalition to Rebuild the Twin Towers. You can even join their Facebook page, contact the media or become part of the One Million Strong for new Twin Towers. According to the founders of the Twin Towers Alliance, the current plan does not pass the smell test:
It certainly is curious that men like Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Silverstein, who know that terrorist targets in Israel are always quickly rehabilitated back to their pre-target state — as the best relief for the victims and the best demoralizer for the victimizers — would work to deprive their country of the same relief. Why the double standard? Why are they going along with towers and a memorial that do just the opposite, making the physical proof of the attacks permanent and giving our enemies the most gigantic terrorist trophy the world has ever seen? ? It doesn’t compute — it boggles the mind. Why would they be so hostile to the natural desire of their own countrymen for that same simple standard, knowing what an effective deterrent it is in Israel against the same enemy? Especially when the possibility of restoring the skyline to its world-famous profile is so much more popular, economical, buildable, and ultimately rewarding for all concerned? Why would they seek to marginalize and defame those who object? Whose side are they on anyway?
While I mostly find myself in agreement with much of what the Twin Towers Alliance position, where I take exception is that I think Mike Bloomberg and his team have done a rather remarkable job to advance the interests of New York City in some of the most trying times. This is especially true when you consider the fundamental shift in the global economy and the modern economic reality in America, the challenge or threat to American supremacy. Consider further the challenges posed by a shrinking financial sector in lower Manhattan, including soaring vacancy rates, which very much impact the kind of facilities which make sense to build downtown at this stage of New York history. In short, it is hard not to appreciate the passion and intent of the folks at the Twin Towers Alliance while being sympathetic to the economic and political realities being dealt with by our business and political leaders. Hesitance and caution are a natural reaction, but not necessarily the right reaction.
A Modern Utopia: Once the Vision of Andrew Cuomo
The will of the people may call for new Twin Towers. Demand in the business community for commercial space of that magnitude may not currently exist. On the other hand, perhaps the vacancy rate exists downtown because the alternatives that exist for the type of Manhattan we are attempting to craft do not exist or are not modern enough to attract the kind of tenants that would consider relocating to Lower Manhattan. And I am not just talking about creating just more square footage at a cheaper price which would create a downtown vs. midtown chess game between a few of the largest landowners in the city. What I am instead talking about is a modern if not futuristic Urban Enterprise Zone that is designed to lure business from other parts of the country and the world because The World Trade Center is not just a name but in essence an “Olympic Village of Commerce” where the best and brightest must come to be in proximity of the greatest minds in Capitalism in the free world. Simply put, there has always been a certain romance with Downtown (consider the opening credits for the movie Wall Street) and that romance must be recreated to lure new generations back. If you don’t get it, then you probably think that the World Trade Center was just a couple of skyscrapers.
New Yorkers should be looking for and turning to someone with the creativity of Andrew Cuomo, the current Attorney General, who was a gubernatorial candidate back in 2002 who saw the opportunity to build a new utopia rather than just a few pleasant high rises, a memorial or a cemetery. According to the Gotham Gazette:
Although Andrew Cuomo ultimately dropped out of the race, his rebuilding plans were some of the most creative of any of the major candidates. He saw the rebuilt downtown area as a sort of high-tech capitalist utopia: New York City cultural landmarks, a relocated World Bank, an integrated transportation system, a developed waterfront with a harbor economy, and a newly commissioned World Institute of Health, doing valuable research while also creating a biotechnology economy.
If the corporate demand does not exist for every square foot of space in the Twin Towers right now, perhaps as a forward thinking Urban Enterprise Zone we can remake New York City for the 21st Century and beyond. In so doing we must be prepared to look at things not in such a microeconomic manner in terms of what may be filled up next week, next month or even next year. The question is not whether New York City can afford to do this and make the investment now but whether New York City can afford to cede ground to other centers of trade and commerce, such as Kuala Lampur in Malaysia (see the Petronas Towers), Dubai or Hong Kong. If we do not then the name World Trade Center will end up signifying not just a dream unfulfilled but a reality we were unwilling to invest in its creation and thus ultimately meaningless. Make no mistake that a series of high rises and monument to the deceased will only serve to remind that this is no longer The World Trade Center, but that it once was and it, New York and America will RIP.
EPILOGUE: It should be noted that the folks at Twin Towers Alliance are absolutely correct. This blog left out a key point, that Twin Towers II calls for very much the same kind of mixed use facility, similar to one of the signature properties in midtown west at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, which ironically also has Twin Towers. I find it hard to believe that there will be insufficient demand for personal or corporate homes in a truly rebuilt World Trade Center with views from the Windows at the Top of the World. And it should be noted that Twin Towers Alliance while giving Mayor Bloomberg his due for his governance during troubled times, believe that his governance will ultimately be judged as a net gain or net loss, depending on what happens in Lower Manhattan. Here we are in 2010, with the opportunity still to correct what is wrong at the World Trade Center site. During the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11th and all the pandemonium and political posturing and grandstanding by political leaders like then Governor George Pataki who promised a vocal minority of victims families that there would be no building on the footprints at Ground Zero and still others who lobbied for no building at all on Ground Zero, we can recognize and reflect on the folly or lack of wisdom and perspective in those promises and the power plays behind the flawed process, especially since those who attempted to control the debate had no background in urban planning and bare some responsibility for the rest of the world passing us by. The future or the fate of America and its signature metropolis should not be beholden to those promises offered in the heat of passion, political passion that is, by leaders with a compromised vision to a somewhat misguided but vocal minority, especially when no significant evidence exists that a majority of the families ever wanted or insisted that New York essentially build a cemetery downtown. This is New York City and “NOT” Iken Pataki Town. Furthermore, it is wise to consider that we do not remake our entire society based upon the voices of a few, with all due respect, but rather our society shall advance forward to the benefit the majority of our citizens and our culture as a whole by cool, calm and strategic reflection about what is necessary to advance us as a people. Will we be happy when for years folks come to visit the World Trade Center as a “Disneyland of Death” rather than for it being the center of commerce, commercial enterprise and capitalism itself? It’s really a rather simple question.