New York remembers
Politics, money and the future of Ground Zero
BUILDING a fitting memorial to a tragedy is awfully hard. The Oklahoma City Memorial, the only existing monument in America marking a terrorist attack, includes a controversial exhibition where visitors can listen to a simulation of the bomb explosion that killed 168 people. America’s most popular memorials — the Lincoln Memorial, the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbour, and the Vietnam Memorial — were built well after the events they commemorate.
New York’s first attempt to remember the twin towers collapsed on January 18th amid the sort of racial politicking people once hoped had disappeared on September 11th. The idea was for a big statue outside the fire department’s headquarters in Brooklyn modeled on the famous photograph of three firemen raising the stars and stripes amid the rubble of the World Trade Centre with one small difference: two of the (white) firemen would become a black and a Latino. Many in the 94%-white fire department objected. A new proposal is eagerly awaited.
There is also increasing pressure to come up with an idea for Ground Zero itself, not least because the clean-up there is ahead of schedule. In his farewell address, and mindful of the fact that many families will never recover the bodies of their loved ones from the ruins, the outgoing mayor, Rudy Giuliani, called for a “soaring memorial” to occupy the whole 16-acre site. But his successor, Michael Bloomberg, is making a habit of disagreeing with Mr Giuliani’s positions on everything from the homeless to baseball stadiums. He quickly bowed to the reality that, for downtown’s long-term viability, the site needs to mix remembrance with office space.
A selection of the architectural world’s suggestions is now on display in a Chelsea show, “The New World Trade Centre”. Many confirm the public’s worst prejudices about architects. One proposes two towering multi-coloured structures, each bearing changing electronic bumper-sticker nostrums such as “Save Kyoto” and “Remember Seattle”. There is a recurring interest in numerology: one plan includes a trench dug 911 feet and one inch deep, representing the 11th day of the ninth month of 2001. Slightly more promising is a suspension bridge for pedestrians extending from lower Manhattan across the Hudson. Most dramatic of all is a proposal for a temporary monument, projecting two tremendous beacons of light into the night sky above the site.
The most bitter wrangling will be over who has the right to decide what happens on the site. Larry Silverstein, a property magnate, holds the 99-year lease on the site, the right to redevelop it, and a nest-egg of insurance claims worth either $3.5 billion (if the attack counts as one insurable incident) or $7 billion (if it counts as two). He wants to begin rebuilding 7 World Trade Centre (one of the neighbouring buildings) before September 11th of this year, and he has an architect at work on the main building.
But there are other contenders. Veto power of some sort over the final design rests with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land and is rather inefficiently controlled by the governors of the two states. There is also the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation, set up by New York governor George Pataki after September 11th to spearhead rebuilding. This is directed by a respected elder statesman, John Whitehead, a former boss of Goldman Sachs. It has $2 billion in federal money, and holds its first proper meeting this week.
Following the erection of viewing platforms, thousands of people are queuing for hours to look at the hole in the ground where the World Trade Centre once stood. Whatever takes its place may evolve only after much political squabbling.