Friday, May 5, 2006

Emotion and money at the World Trade Center site

   A report from New York is that the World Trade Center memorial is now expected to cost nearly a billion dollars.  No one knows where the money would come from; donations have not reached anywhere near this total.
   I have been skeptical of nearly everything about the procedures and plans for rebuilding at “ground zero.”  In a sense, the extraordinary competitions, public hearings, and input from victims families and other interested parties was meant to be cathartic.  Instead, we ended up with litigation and a billion-dollar price tag for the memorial alone.
   In my view, the procedures have exposed a somewhat unpleasant side of the American psyche.  We feel that we need to respond to what we saw as an unparalleled disaster with a rebuilding response of unparalleled size, complexity, and expense.  What ever happened to the idea of quiet, dignified mourning?   In small towns across the United States, there are simple monuments marked with 1861-65 and 1917-18 –- epochs more deadly than September 11, 2001 –- that today continue to evoke respect and reflection.  But in lower Manhattan, we demand more -– waterfalls, pools, and acres of construction -– to prove how much we mourn.   If it’s not huge and complex, we seem to think that we aren’t being respectful enough.
   I also have been skeptical of the plans for the banal 1776-feet-tall “Freedom Tower” planned for the site.  It seemed a “given” that a new tower would have to be higher -– if only through a huge pinnacle -– than the enormous Trade Center towers and would return the title of world’s tallest building to New York.  But Freedom Tower is unlikely to be the world’s tallest building in 2016, with giant skyscrapers now planned for Asia and the Middle East.  There are economic reasons why only one New York project since 1931 was taller than the Empire State Building.  Yet in a nation in which emotions are constantly on public display, we feel the need to express our grief over September 11, 2001, through colossal and costly land use gestures.

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