Commentary on the 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

The official planning process of rebuilding the destroyed World Trade Center has been a saga of uninterrupted incompetence and a constant succession of incorrect decisions.

We are now asked to comment on the "Amended General Project Plan" in March 2004,with reference to a document prepared in September 2003 that looked forward to events that occurred months ago and does not reflect the constant "amendments" that have happened since.

All through the process definitions have been altered back and forth as alterations are made to plans to appease various constituencies and confuse everyone.Whether one reacts to the plans as presented in the document or as they are believed to stand at this time of writing, it remains futile to "amend" a plan that was devised to meet indefensible programmatic requirements that arose out of inappropriate priorities.

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.

Public dissatisfaction with the proposals put forward by the official planners has been a constant throughout the process.Unfortunately,so has been official response aimed at deflecting the public concerns in favor of pre-conceived,misconceived official priorities.

In July 2002 the six Beyer Blinder Belle plans were uniformly denounced, the reasons people hated them were turned into official program requirements, and here we are nearly two years later presented with what is basically a warmed-over version of BBB's "Memorial Plaza".We did not get here by a process of taking public concerns into account,but by one of ignoring them.

That's why the Libeskind plan finished last in the official public poll, which was comfortably won by "neither" (of the last two plans considered), and was still selected by the Governor of New York against the advice of most of his own appointees.

This plan as it stands essentially completes the work of the killers in erasing the World Trade Center from the map,and thus honors the killers at the expense of the victims it pretends to honor.

Right now there is still an identifiable World Trade Center site, if the proposed plan is built there will not even be that.Even the surrounding neighborhood's character is promised to be altered in a breathtaking triumph of opportunism over honor.

Renowned icons of America were destroyed,thousands of lives extinguished in an act of staggering brutality.What is suggested to rise where they...buildings and people...fell?

Where the Twin Towers themselves stood,officialdom has ignored the near even division of public opinion and decreed that both "footprints" must remain as completely empty as the terrorists left them,open wounds promising future murderers that when one destroys an American landmark it will stay destroyed.The purposes to which and for which the victims gave their lives are decreed to be banished from those two acres forever,that land henceforward defined as nothing but what the killers sought to make of it.

Apart from that area,the site is ordered to be divided by streets, "integration" into the surrounding area translating into destroying the distinct identity that the site,even as an empty hole,has hitherto managed to retain.And the rebuilding is proposed to take in the Deutsche Bank block to the south,which was not part of the World Trade Center,further altering the definition of the site.

And what are these blocks,surrounding but not joined to the morbid murderers' trophy of a memorial,supposed to be filled with?

Most prominently,we are told,the "Freedom Tower"...a landmark in nothing but the history of pretentiousness.The "world's tallest building", we are told.Actually as a building,with walls rising to a roof, it approximates the height of the John Hancock Center,third tallest building in Chicago.Above that is only an ornamental cage full of windmills topped by an observation deck lower than the solid roofs and walls of buildings now rising in Shanghai and Hong Kong,crowned by a spire lower than the structural top of the CN Tower.The actual height of the antenna we have yet to be told,and what we are told now may vanish as quickly as the 1776-foot observation deck promised in the Final Scope of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement.

Compared to this structure each of the Twin Towers had a roof hundreds of feet higher and contained over 60% more office space,and this thin, twisted creation is set to be the largest structure anywhere on the site. In fact,it appears unclear that any others are securely funded.

Between Greenwich and Church Streets (which both ran between Liberty and Fulton Streets for less than a quarter of the city's history, the historical norm has been one of them or the other) we are told that buildings not much taller than others in the area will rise some day,but only in response to market demand.

In the meantime,urban designers encourage us to welcome street-level retail to this site that has lost its retail lease operator because of official insistence on moving retail to street level.We are told that it is a good thing that vehicular traffic will invade what was one of Lower Manhattan's largest open spaces,that becoming yet another of New York's countless "24-hour communities" is something other than destroying the distinctive character of the Financial District to a further extent than the terror attacks thus far managed.

And if we don't like this,we are ignored.

This is NOT the way to rebuild the World Trade Center.

This is NOT the way to honor those who died there.

This surrender is NOT the way to react to the murderers' desire to "cut America down to size".

Other cities devastated by war or disaster have not made sure their hearts cut out were never replaced.Not Halifax in 1917,not Hiroshima or countless European cities after 1945.

At this time and in this place,it is absolutely vital that we rebuild in a fashion that sends the unambiguous message that the strength of our recovery outweighs the severity of our wounds,and the official plan does exactly the opposite.

We can not disgrace our fallen by continuing with the plans that, for all the empty rhetoric offered by the Governor,unambiguously signal retreat,acquiescence,and timidity.No one will ever work closer than across the street from where they died,these plans say.No one will ever work as high in the sky.Where they died,and the terrorists did not wish them to be,we obey the terrorists and will never return.

If we truly wish to do the right thing for our dead,for our city, for our country,and for the free world,we must send the message that our courage and spirit were not among the casualties that horrible day.

We must build towers that rise every bit as tall as the old and beyond by every measurement,embodying a "can do" and not a "don't dare" spirit.We must cast aside the fears spinelessly invoked by the Draft GEIS as an excuse for not rebuilding,and build to the skies regardless of immediate market demand with the boldness exclusively responsible for the fame of the old Twin Towers,of the Empire State Building before them, and of the Woolworth Building even earlier.Only by being "too big" by market-driven standards did they become exceptional,and only because of that speculative boldness was it ever possible for them to produce as much rental revenue as they did when in time they did fill with tenants.

Let us not forget the Group of 35 report in 2001 that declared that the city needed sixty million square feet of new office space by 2020 even before 11 million square feet of Downtown's best space was destroyed and added to the shortage.Let us finance it however we must,but let us not stop short of full replacement of what was lost on the 16 acres,and treat replacement of the Deutsche Bank separately.

It is towers built on a heroic scale,engineering marvels with standards of strength and safety that the laws of physics dictate no lesser structures can attain,that will inspire the world and show that it was indeed the terrorists and not their victims who died in vain.Nothing less can suffice.

If one needed even more reason to discard the Libeskind plan,surely the strong support for it voiced by Brookfield Properties at the February 18th Draft GEIS hearing should qualify.Why would a competitor owning buildings surrounding the site urge that this plan be proceeded with in haste,if it thought there would be stronger demand for space in the new buildings than in its own?Only if Brookfield were bitterly protesting the unfair competition from the new buildings would the plans be proposing buildings sufficiently inspiring of tenant demand.

In sum,the most important comment one can make about the Amended General Project Plan is that there is an urgent need to completely discard it.

We must instead have a plan with fewer,taller buildings, in terms of genuine height and not ornamentation on one of them. As with not tearing the site apart by running Greenwich Street all the way through it(unanimously opposed by everyone who bothered to post on a comment board on this subject opened by the Project for Public Spaces),this ensures more open space as well as greater structural efficiency.

We must have a plan that reaffirms and reincarnates, not repudiates,what was destroyed.In a war of symbols the destruction of symbols can not be allowed to stand.

The World Trade Center must retain its identity and its Towers rise again undiminished,or history will record that America itself could not do so.

March 12,2004