Rebuilding lower Manhattan
What next for Ground Zero?
DECIDING what to do with the 16-acre site on which the World Trade Centre once stood is being called the most sensitive question that New York city has ever faced. This week, after months of discussion, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which is responsible for the site, at last unveiled six designs. These have whipped up a tidal wave of comment, not all of it kind. More than 40m people tried to view the plans on the LMDC’s website, overloading its server and slowing Internet traffic throughout the north-eastern United States.
Yet the biggest complaint to emerge about the plans is that they are too boring. Each includes a space for a memorial to the victims of September 11th, whose design will be chosen in another international competition. And each contains as much space for offices, hotels and shops as existed before the attack. The funkiest of the designs, known rather unfunkily as concept number three or Memorial Triangle, boasts an 85-storey tower that, with a broadcasting spire on top, could exceed the height of the former 110-storey twin towers. Most, however, are more modest than that, proposing between four and six smaller towers. The most popular of these in an early newspaper poll, concept number six or Memorial Promenade, features a grass park that would lead all the way down to the waterfront.
The plans, it is said, look a bit samey. This may be because they have all emerged from the same firm of architects, Beyer Blinder Belle (which did a nice job with Grand Central station). The LMDC’s aim was to set a broad master-plan, and then let architects compete with innovative designs for the actual buildings (Beyer et al will be excluded from that part). Anyway, none of the concepts is expected to materialise in its drawing-board form. By September the six contestants will have been reduced to three; a winner will be announced in December.
That choice will be made by the LMDC in consultation with the Port Authority, which owns the site, and a series of other interested parties, from the mayor to the general public. One big squabble will be over whether it is right to cram so much commercial space into an area that has been losing business for some time. It took years for the original Trade Centre to become profitable, and there are now fears of creating a colossal white elephant. Plans to develop a transport hub are popular. But every New Yorker worth his bagel with cream cheese and lox has an idea about what the memorial should look like.
So far the LMDC’s chairman, John Whitehead, has done a good job of keeping people together. But he will have his work cut out to keep this up. One leading New York politician jovially forecasts a long and bitter struggle, with all but the winner being cast cruelly aside. And that’s if things go well.