Commentary on the 2005 Amended General Project Plan for the World Trade Center Site

By Louis Epstein
R.D. 2,Carmel,New York 10512
Founder & Director,World Trade Center Restoration Movement

A depressing sameness attends this latest go-round of the tragicomically wretched official planning process for rebuilding the destroyed World Trade Center.

We were asked to comment on the "Amended General Project Plan" in March 2004,we are now asked to comment on an "Amended General Project Plan"in March 2005.The latest change is the effort to rope the 140 Liberty Street parcel into the project in yet another attempt to hide the basic shortcomings of the project.

As plans have been altered back and forth to appease various constituencies and react to the continuous discovery of drawback after drawback of the master plan,one message stands out crystal clear to everyone except the plan's promoters:

"End it,Don't Amend it!!"

No amount of tinkering can turn the current plan into something worth building;no plan that meets the indefensible programmatic requirements that plan was commissioned to meet can be something worth building;no plan that seeks to fulfill the inappropriate priorities that gave rise to those requirements can be something worth building.

There is no use in officialdom shifting the blame for those requirements to public opinion;public dissatisfaction with the proposals put forward by the official planners has been a constant throughout the process. We must never forget that in the official public poll the Libeskind plan finished last,and "Neither" (of the two "finalist" plans bad enough to meet the official requirements) was the clear winner,indicating public dislike for the guidelines that gave rise to those plans. Unfortunately,the public dissatisfaction has consistently been met with stonewalling as the pre-conceived,misconceived official priorities are protected by those with a vested interest in promoting them.

For almost three years we have been presented with warmed-over versions of what was introduced as "Memorial Plaza" in July 2002 with the reasons it was unpopular laid down as binding requirements on any plans offered. The latest tinkering does nothing to alleviate the basic disadvantages of any plan that meets those requirements.

"End it,Don't Amend it!!"

A plan that deliberately erases the identity of the World Trade Center site by carving it into blocks no longer distinct from the surrounding neighborhood,that ostentatiously showcases the permanent power of the murderers of thousands to prevent us from ever rising again,that dares not reclaim the full height of the destroyed iconic Twin Towers with anything but a transparent skeleton,can not be turned into a good plan,or even a tolerable one, by amendment.

Any alleged increase in security caused by moving the truck ramp south of Liberty Street is dwarfed by the lost security caused by running Greenwich Street all the way through the site, a pet project of certain urban-utopians that has been declared a sacred cow no matter how manifest its disadvantages.Why bother running a bomb-laden truck through a delivery checkpoint when there are surface streets right next to every building in the complex?

It should already be clear from the experience of losing the site's retail master lessee because of the plan's insistence on forcing retail onto the street in order to inflict "active, enlivened street life" on one of the least appropriate places imaginable for it,that merchants and shoppers alike prefer that the shopping here be underground.How can a plan with adverse economic consequences be clothed as one promoting economic recovery?

It should already be clear from the longstanding demonstration in public polls that people would prefer Towers fully reclaiming the scale of those that were destroyed that the proposed plan fails to inspire the way the Twin Towers did.How can a plan that demonstrates timidity be clothed as one showing resilience?

"End it,Don't Amend it!!"

It defies belief that a memorial that is first and foremost a glorification of an act of mass murder designed to demonstrate the murderers' success in forever redefining the site of their triumph can be said to honor the victims condemned to be remembered for their deaths in a place cleansed of the purposes to which and for which they gave their lives in an act of submission to their killers' will.How can a plan that does not emphasize the strength of our recovery above the severity of our wounds,our determination not to be turned from our course over our willingness to be forever altered,be said to honor rather than disgrace those who were slaughtered?

The project plan fails economically,it fails symbolically, it fails spiritually,it fails aesthetically.

"End it,Don't Amend it!!"

When you are going downward,the only way upward is to go backward.

The only plans worthy of the site are ones that do not fail in the way that the official plans have been ordered to fail.

We need plans that honor the distinct character of the Financial District,not seek to transform the area into yet another of the city's countless "24/7 communities" and encourage the already overheated pace of population growth.

We need plans that honor the distinctness of the World Trade Center site itself,retaining its clear definition among the surrounding areas rather than opportunistically dividing the "superblock" because of changing fashions and taking the needed de-vehicularization of lower Manhattan a giant step backwards.

And most of all,we need plans that are centered on gigantic Towers that show no retreat in the face of mass murder,no retreat from the spirit that gave us the originals,and create the only historical and urban context that can make a memorial on the site honor the victims more than it honors the killers.

The turning of resolutely deaf ears to the public clamor for restoration of what was destroyed must end.

Let us instead turn deaf ears to those who plead real estate economics,remembering that it was strictly through having the courage to ignore short-term demand that the greatest buildings of New York achieved iconic stature.They became exceptional exactly because they were "too big"...and in the end made more money than they possibly could have otherwise!

Let us instead turn deaf ears to those who plead fear,recognizing that to show the success of the killers in inspiring such fear encourages them to strike again,and that the engineering facts make clear that supertall buildings are necessarily the safest.

Let us instead turn deaf ears to those who see the murder of thousands as a lucky chance to impose their tastes in urban design on a site that met the tastes of others,and reject both their insensitivity and the symbolism of being made to change our course by those who would kill us.

Let us see with open eyes the importance of not allowing this site to change more than can be avoided,and the empowerment of mass murderers that any such changes represent.

Let us show that the spirit that gave us the Twin Towers did not die and can not die,rather than build a tomb for it amid stunted symbols of surrender.

Let us build awe-inspiring engineering marvels that reincarnate that spirit for the new millennium on a scale greater than before and alone can show that the killers did not "cut us down to size".All the sacrifices made by our forces abroad are revealed as empty bluster if in the end all that rises again are smaller buildings angled in fear away from empty holes where the symbols of our pride once stood.

We didn't shrink from fully rebuilding the Pentagon stronger than ever, New York must show it is made of no less substance than the countless cities that have rebuilt their wounded hearts fully after devastation by war or disaster.

I have said all this and more before,and will say it again at every opportunity;these truths do not change.

I can only close by repeating what I said last time I was confronted with an attempt to "amend" the Libeskind plan:

The case for complete abandonment of the current plans in favor of ones much more evocative of what was destroyed in the attacks of September 11th 2001 has never been clearer.

March 8,2005