Commentary on the Draft Principles and Preliminary Blueprint for the Future of Lower Manhattan

By Louis Epstein
R.D. 13,Carmel,New York 10512

This document,in its efforts to pursue a number of contradictory goals,is in need of a major rethink.

Apart from the itemized intention to build a memorial to those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center attacks, the plan attempts to reinvent Lower Manhattan as if the World Trade Center had never if the old Radio Row district had lingered into the new century and then quietly evaporated into thin air and presented a greenfield building opportunity with no rancor or implications to be drawn from the decisions taken.

This is of course not the case.No ordinary buildings were lost; landmarks famed throughout the world were lost,attacked because they represented American financial power and American freedom and American pride...and international commerce and international friendship in a network of other World Trade Centers around the world.Buildings of awe-inspiring scale,soaring to the skies as the crown of a world-famous skyline.

It was the desire of the terrorists that these buildings be lost; that America be "cut down to size",terrorized out of again erecting such immense icons to enterprise and prosperity.That a hole remain in the skyline as testament to their success,inspiring further attacks on our landmarks each gone forever once successfully felled.

In these circumstances any development plan that grants the terrorists' wishes is inescapably evidence of the terrorists' victory and American surrender to their dictates...not the "symbol of our nation's resilience" that the first paragraph claims is desired.

Yet nowhere in the document is a committment to undo the destruction of the Towers made...rather,snide complaints about the Towers are offered amid a plan to divide the site and remake the area into one those who died in the Towers would not have recognized.

The reconstruction of 1 and 2 World Trade Center to at least their former height must be the centerpiece of any redevelopment of the World Trade Center site...all other construction is ancillary to this.

The draft document claims that "The memorial will stand as an eternal tribute to the victims,the enduring strength of democracy, a celebration of freedom,and a testament to the resurgent power of the city and the nation."

Any memorial's effectiveness in these goals is fatally damaged if it also constitutes evidence that the terrorists achieved their aims and America did not dare reverse their act.Resilience and resurgence are not embodied in replacing structures that dominated their surroundings and views for miles around with ones no taller than those across the immediately surrounding streets!

Terrorism must be answered with boldness rather than fear... a "can do" rather than "don't dare" attitude.Memorials must show our ability to carry on with the burdens of the fallen with our courage undimmed...though they must be remembered from the ground level to the highest levels of the new Towers,giving up the aspirations to the skies that they enjoyed is a betrayal rather than an honoring of their memory.

New Towers can inspire the world,and the world deserves no less from New York...a city that has long led in the erection of buildings of breathtaking height,and whose surrender of the lead in this regard is a cause of regret for many.The symbolism of being home to the tallest building in the world is not lost on the Asian cities now vying for this distinction,showing the world that this is indeed "The Pacific Century" and America has passed its peak...especially New York,which now faces the century with no building taller than it had seventy years ago.

Now especially the state and nation(with taxpayer rebuilding funds) and the world look to New York to "stand tall"...New York must not disappoint them.New Twin Towers should exceed the old ones in every respect,while remaining strongly reminiscent of them...applying the latest lessons in safety and strength in their construction and materials.No buildings of average height for the district could do this...and as noted by eminent architect Eli Attia,"Any 100 story building is safer than any 50 story building."

Fear must be answered with hope rather than retreat. The refrain that no one would want to work on the high floors of giant towers has never been true...and such fears that there are, being the heart's desire of those who killed thousands of good people,must not be allowed to stand in the way of full-scale reconstruction.Every engineering improvement in the new Towers is another reason why people ought to work there.And momentary softness in the real estate market will surely vanish in the lifetimes of the buildings.

The plans say "Human scale will be re-established"...but the answer to that has to be,"Not here,not now." It is a baleful denial of the tragedy of September 11th to ignore the fact that to retreat from the heroic scale of the landmark Towers to a "human scale" neighborhood is to grant the wishes of mass murderers and create symbols of surrender to their success.

Improvements in the infrastructure of Lower Manhattan are not a flaw in the plans...the new Towers deserve the finest accessibility by all forms of transportation.

The lack of commitment to restore the Twin Towers is the overriding problem in the document as it stands,and revision to explicitly confirm that this is a matter of great priority will make the plan one that New York and the world will see as one to be grateful for rather than setting the seal on surrender to murder and fear.

May 22,2002