Commentary for the City Council Regarding Redevelopment of the World Trade Center Site

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

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council,

I regret not having been physically present at the hearing, and would certainly have done so had I had notice.I have been actively engaged in matters regarding the redevelopment of the World Trade Center ever since the Towers were destroyed,and my organization has carried out multiple rallies and petition drives in Lower Manhattan.I refer you to my previous commentaries over the past few years that are archived at on our website.

Progress toward the redevelopment of the World Trade Center is something to be fought for,but progress toward implementation of the current official site plan is something to be fought against.

If one's child has been kidnapped,one does not turn one's concern toward making sure the child beds down comfortably with the kidnapper;one seeks to remove the kidnapper from all ability to control the child.And the absolute travesty of an official planning process has effectively "kidnapped" these 16 acres that need to be returned to their rightful purpose so murderously violated on September 11th 2001.

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.

Public dissatisfaction with the proposals put forward by the official planners has been a constant throughout the process.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.

This 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.

Those who have wasted our time and tax dollars on specifying,selecting, and promoting such wretched plans now seek to blame us for trying to remedy the disgrace they have caused,and to ensure that future generations are not spared the consequences of their incompetence.Not only is it not "too late" to throw their plans in the trash,there has never been any excuse to do otherwise.

What to Do and What Not to Do

What is built on this site must before all else emphasize the strength of our recovery above the severity of our wounds,to show that the city, the nation,and the free world prevailed despite the horrible slaughter of that infamous day.What has been proposed instead seeks to send the opposite message,ostentatiously showcasing the killers' success in diminishing New York and America forever.Gaping wounds in the cityscape highlight Governor Pataki's public pledge of obedience to Osama bin Laden's dictate that giant towers must never again stand there; smaller buildings,not even on the same block,cower away from the holes in fear.And those whom the terrorists killed are thus shown to have been on a losing side.

Beyond the peremptory insistence that the emptiness decreed by the killers must preclude even token reclamation of the Tower footprints for the purposes to which and for which the victims gave their lives,the official plans yield to the absolutely fanatical insistence on tearing the site apart by running Greenwich Street all the way through it, with no plan failing to make this mistake (opposed by every single writer on the public message board on the subject opened by the Project for Public Spaces) being given even the slightest consideration. Under this restriction,one of the largest open spaces Downtown ceases to be and it becomes impossible to site any building at a safe distance from truck bombs.

And the third mandated blunder that has made official plans unpopular from the beginning but remained a firm requirement by those choosing plans was to adopt a timid,market-driven approach to restoring office space.It was solely because they were "too big" that the Towers became the beloved icons they were...that they took years to fill as the once "Empty State Building" had before them did not keep them from finally generating far more revenue than they possibly could have had they been been built to a size the short-term market would support.

All these blunders should be discarded and not one cent more spent on their implementation.The Arad memorial,with its insulting treatment of the likes of Deputy Commissioner Feehan,who spent over forty years protecting New Yorkers,no differently from Pentagon or Shanksville victims who may never have visited Manhattan in their lives,should likewise be cancelled,and the memorial that does get built guaranteed the only urban and historical context that can make it more than a trophy of the terrorists' triumph:
a site plan dominated by new Towers of greater strength and no lesser scale than those that were destroyed.

Consolidating the office space into fewer,taller buildings that show no retreat from the scale of the lost Twin Towers shows that the terrorists did not succeed in terrorizing the bold speculative spirit out of America,while proceeding with the current Libeskind plan shows that they did. The "Freedom Tower",a structure of mostly empty pretense,reluctantly reaches the roof height of the shorter Twin Tower before adding a flimsy ornamental spire.The other buildings,under Libeskind's plan, are smaller yet (the largest less than half the square footage of one Twin Tower) and are to be designed to dramatize the killers' success in clearing the site of the old Twins.Instead of icons of prosperity we are offered symbols of surrender.

The Least We Can Do

If we make no other change in this outrageous prescription for failure, the combination of Towers 3 and 4 into a single building both taller and larger than the "Freedom Tower" is absolutely critical.It would end Libeskind's absurd "rising arc" artsiness,just as his now forgotten alleged "wedge of light" no longer features in discussions,and ensure that there were two buildings each of at least the height of the two fallen icons.

The existing plan for "Tower 4" is ridiculous;it would offer half its 50th-floor tenants views into the 50th-floor offices of those across Church Street in One Liberty Plaza,or across the superfluous "Cortlandt Way" into the 50th-floor offices of similarly unimpressed tenants in "Tower 3".

A building combining these two towers into the one largest and tallest building in New York,adjacent to the PATH terminal and not restricted by attempts to revive the cramped downtown blocks that had people moving north to escape them in the 19th century, would be far more desirable,with many floors of unrestricted view in all directions.As to any unfounded fears of working there that would gratify the terrorists' aims,I commend to you the words of 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."
And I add that at our rallies and petition drives we have frequently exhausted supplies of "YES I'd Work on the 110th Floor!" stickers; more people would want to work on the top floor than could possibly fit!

The Best We Can Do

I declared at a hearing a year ago,
"There has never been any excuse to do anything with these plans but tear them up and start over.And if the planned structures are built,so long as they stand there will be no excuse to do anything but tear them down and start over!"
The boldness the current plans betray us by lacking can be exhibited by their wholesale abandonment in favor of plans that meet the real needs of the situation.Plans that show the failure of mass murderers to remake us rather than our hysterical self-mutilation in response to their attacks.Plans that show we remain on the course we set for ourselves before they assaulted us,that reclaim the dreams of the fallen for a new generation...that do not empower opportunistic advocates of different schools of urban design,dancing on the graves of buildings they never liked but which meant so much to so many.

Plans that preserve the distinctive character of the site and the Financial District rather than carving it into pieces and forcing underground retail onto the surface (which lost the site its master retail lessee) in order to create yet another 24/7 neighborhood in a city with tons of them.Plans that see the overheated population growth Downtown as something to rein in rather than encourage. Plans that do not take the needed de-vehicularization of lower Manhattan a giant step backwards.

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 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.

Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority and the Governor and the Mayor each bear a responsibility in these matters,and they have each shown a timidity unbecoming to those representing us all in these positions. We must provide the backbone to abandon the order to retreat that is being sounded by those who must be driven from their places if they do not change their course.

March 28,2006