This hearing's intent to hold to account those entrusted with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center falls short of its goal if it limits itself to asking why the official plans are not being implemented.
Rather,it should ask...why are those who have wasted close to five years and millions of taxpayer dollars demonstrating their unfitness to come up with appropriate plans still standing in the way of better plans being substituted?
What is built on this site must above all else demonstrate the strength of our recovery above the severity of our wounds,and the development corporation and its associates have been determined to do the opposite.
They have reached the present day through a series of almost invariably bad decisions which they have refused to revisit and whose opponents they have refused to listen to.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 were aimed at destroying the Twin Towers,and this aim in the minds of madmen justified the slaughter of thousands of good people.When a nation is attacked, it in no way honors the dead by sounding a retreat,yet that is exactly what the planners determined to do.
Plans that retreat in any way from the scale of the destroyed Towers are symbols of surrender to the will of the murderers and should be resisted for this reason alone,yet only plans that promised to do so were permitted even the slightest consideration in this travesty of a process.
They began by drawing up principles in consultation with carefully selected groups characterized by bias toward achieving change in the city.The cynical,insensitive opportunism of advocates of fashionable schools of urban design saw the destruction of the Towers as a convenient chance to impose their will,just when the terrorists' imposition of theirs should have motivated everyone to stand behind restoring what had been violated by murderers.
The self-centered impulse to reconsider and rethink what needed to be reaffirmed as strongly and unambiguously as possible led the process down wrong directions ever afterward.
Also inappropriate as a retreat disgracing the fallen was a declaration that office space would only be built in response to market demand, a convenience for office landlords seeking to avoid a large supply of affordable office space but an unambiguous empowerment of the terrorist desire to "cut us down to size".
The great skyline icons of New York derive their status specifically from their fearless outstripping of the short-term demand that raised them above the common "sensible" developments of their time.And in time they became able to generate more revenue than conservatively built structures ever could have.We must show that the terrorists did not scare us out of that bold faith in the future.
Once timidly scaled plans were drawn up under the official guidelines and roundly condemned by the public for being too unambitious and too crowded,a new round of designs was called for...with the main reasons the first plans had been unpopular declared to be binding program requirements!
If slicing the site completely apart with streets were really a good idea,plans that did not do so would have been defeated by plans that did in a fair contest...but plans that did not do so were disqualified. The officials demanded that cramped 19th century blocks be resurrected and the needed de-vehicularization of lower Manhattan take a step backward so that every new building would be within convenient range of a truck bomb.
If dividing the office space into at least twice as many buildings were really a good idea,plans that did not do so would have been defeated by plans that did in a fair contest...but plans that did not do so were disqualified.It was demanded that the largest office towers in the world be replaced by what would not even be the largest office towers Downtown in terms of square footage.
If forcing much of the undergound retail space above street level were really a good idea,plans that did not do so would have been defeated by plans that did in a fair contest...but plans that did not do so were disqualified.This demand,placing the preferences of trendy planners above those of shopper and merchant alike,led to the site's retail lessee abandoning the lease.
Finally it was demanded that the footprints of the former Towers be left as empty as Osama bin Laden had commanded,rather than even one corner footing of a new tower reclaim that space for the purposes to which and for which the victims had given their lives...which combined with the demand for new streets made it hard for new towers to even be on the same block as the old,rendering any claims of resilience expressed by the new buildings across the street from the old sites laughable.
I realize this may be the most contentious of my critiques, as we are constantly told "the memorial must come first"...but what must come first is development that honors those we remember more than it obeys the will of those who killed them.Without this we are building a trophy of the terrorists' triumph that thereby disgraces those who died at their hands as well as potentially inspiring future attacks through its demonstration of the power attackers wield over our future.
Once the officials had winnowed through plans that made the required mistakes from architects who had willingly signed away their intellectual property rights,they first chose nine "semi-finalists" and then decided two of the less popular ones were "finalists".
When a popular web poll at New York One showed a large majority, confronted with those two choices,wanted "Neither",the officials intervened to shut it down ahead of schedule and replace it with a new jointly sponsored one they declared the official public poll of the process.
"Neither" still won...compliance with official guidelines being fatal to the popular appeal of a plan...but the officials went ahead and chose the plan that finished last,maintaining ever since that it was popular.
A fair competition open to what people really want has never been considered because of the certain defeat it would inflict on ideas that are in official favor (as an example,when the Project for Public Spaces opened a comment board on Greenwich Street,opposition to its being extended through the site was absolutely unanimous).
My organization,the World Trade Center Restoration Movement, has designed a program for such a competition,which does not prohibit any of the officially desired elements but ensures that what is built demonstrates genuine resilience and not empty pretense or morbid focus on terrorist success.A dean of a major architecture school who is certainly not a partisan has said that our program is "quite good"...too good,I fear, for those who have failed the city and nation over the years they have spent throwing good money after bad.
To reward the incompetence demonstrated by specifying,selecting, and promoting unpopular and inappropriate designs by declaring that we can not afford to undo their mistakes is to visit blight on future generations who will curse us for our folly.We need to scrap the products of the misguided official process now before they are literally set in stone.Those who are responsible for them need to not only be questioned but replaced.
I will take time to address a concern used by some to justify allowing
the terrorist desire to diminish us to guide our planning,that of safety
in high buildings.I can do no better than quoting the words of eminent
architect Eli Attia:
"As an architect who has devoted his life to designing tall buildings, I can state without reservation that any 100-story building is in every respect safer than any 50-story building."
Do not doubt that if we built new 110-story buildings (and my group's rallies and petition drives have regularly exhausted supplies of "YES I'd work on the 110th floor!" stickers) to the latest engineering standards,they would be safer than the buildings now proposed,because of the necessities of engineering and physics that they be built with greater strength in order to stand,and the economic fact that only buildings of such height could generate the returns necessary for buildings of such strength.
Such buildings would be right for the site for every reason. Nothing else could create the historical and urban context necessary for a memorial to properly honor those who died. Certainly not allowing primacy to real-estate business beancounters who want faster construction of smaller buildings and higher rents for the first five years...or taking this as a golden chance for those who prefer a Jane Jacobs city to a Le Corbusier city to flip the finger at their opponents,repudiating the Twin Towers and by implication those in them with the same vehemence,if less blood, as the terrorists.
When future generations not personally acquainted with the dead look at this site and hear of how murderers of long-ago 2001 levelled the great Towers,they will ask "Who won?"...and any development plan that amounts to the Towers staying gone can only lead to the answer, "the terrorists".
If we rebuild with the necessary priority to making sure that what we build comprehensively,visibly reverses their unforgivable act, the answer will be "America".
We must not leave a legacy of having shrunk in fear from our enemies. Show me a city whose buildings have stopped growing taller and I will show you a city that is dying.We must never let this city be so humbled. I close with the motto of our great Empire State..."Excelsior"...ever upward!