Rebuilding Ground Zero

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With the current effort mired in politics and bureaucracy, is it time to step back and rethink the Ground Zero rebuilding strategy?

Since al-Qaida demolished the World Trade Center nearly seven years ago, New York’s naked emperors—Governors George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer and architect Daniel Libeskind—have viewed an historic rebuilding challenge as an opportunity to invent a square wheel and then deny for years that it can’t roll. This week, the Port Authority, which runs the site, released a report admitting that little progress had been made there—still more evidence that the government has responded to an external attack with a self-inflicted disaster. But all the dillydallying may provide an unlikely opportunity for Governor David Paterson and World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, who should examine an entirely different approach: building new twin towers at Ground Zero.

It may sound crazy to say that we should consider throwing away years’ worth of planning. But we’ve barely moved toward completion since 2002; in fact, last week’s report threw out cost estimates or timetables for rebuilding. “The schedule and cost for each of the public projects on the site face significant delays and cost overruns,” wrote Chris Ward, the new director of the Port Authority, to Paterson last Monday. Further, “at least 15 fundamental issues critical to the overall project” are “not yet … resolved.”

Indeed: all New York has to show for its hoping and waiting is a partial support structure for the Freedom Tower—which, when it’s built, will be a sad white elephant. And all that the state promises today is more waiting: waiting for officials to figure out how a poorly designed, half-billion-dollar memorial can withstand the weight of the trees that are supposed to go on top of it; waiting for them to figure out a workable plan for the fancy, multibillion-dollar, Calatrava-designed transit hub, where inevitable changes will mean more changes and delays to everything else on the site. Can anyone be confident that the eventual results won’t be physical evidence of unimaginable folly?

On 9/11, al-Qaida murdered 2,974 people and destroyed two iconic office towers that dominated New York’s skyline, another lone office tower nearby, and some smaller support buildings. We can’t recover stolen lives. But what would it take to make New York physically whole again, while paying tribute to 9/11’s history and victims? One obvious answer is to build two iconic office towers that dominate New York’s skyline once again, surrounded by some smaller buildings. Notice that the one project that has achieved completion after 9/11—Silverstein’s Seven World Trade Center, the lone office tower near the main site—did so partly because Silverstein realized that al-Qaida’s attack wasn’t a mandate to reinvent the obvious. He simply built a more elegant tower to succeed what al-Qaida had destroyed, modernized for the twenty-first century in terms of safety and aesthetics and placed in a superior setting.

New York could take a similar approach with the rest of the site.

Also see

UPDATE at 7/7/08 11:11:22 am:

Lawhawk has been covering the politics of the Ground Zero mess for some time. If you want the down and dirty details, start at the top and read downwards.

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