Sunday, September 11, 2011
9/11 and land use at Ground Zero
Today America commemorates 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.
While the tragedy and heroics of that day appropriately take precedence, 9/11 has created long-running and controversial land use issues since 2001. From the logistics of managing the rescue operations and the excavation, to last year's "ground zero mosque" kerfuffle, issues from the local to the international have played out in discussions over land use at the WTC site in lower Manhattan.
Two of the most controversial land use questions, especially as the years passed, have been (1) how should 9/11 be remembered at the site, and (2) what and how to build/rebuild to replace the twin towers.
On the first question, public memory and historic presentation, you may have seen the news that the 9/11 Memorial opens with a dedication ceremony today. The project seems to be a classic American example of public-private cooperation:
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. began formal operations in the spring of 2005 and worked with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on the design and construction management plan. In the summer of 2006, the organization assumed responsibility for overseeing the design and working with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the construction manager on the project. . . . In the beginning of October 2006, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Following the election of the Mayor as Chairman, the Foundation named Joseph C. Daniels as President.
At the website, there are links to a lot of of great photos and interactive views of the site and the Memorial.
The second enduring issue--whether and what to rebuild on the site--has generated a lot of criticism as a decade has passed without any replacement for the towers. This issue has been a perfect storm of land use issues: real estate, economics, regulation, federalism, urbanism, architecture, planning, transportation, culture, history, and of course, politics, politics, politics. For what it's worth, my impression has been that on the one hand, it's too simplistic to just say we should have built a ginormous tower immediately to stick it to the terrorists--yes, NY got the Empire State Building up in about 15 months during the Great Depression, but that's not realistic in lower Manhattan today. On the other hand, I think that the decade-long wait for putting some of the world's most valuable real estate to use says something important about the effect of the burdens that we have placed on property in the modern regulatory environment. Many of the procedural and political issues and delays might have been for justifiable ends, but really, a decade?
Things are finally moving along, though. From the Wall Street Journal's Developments real estate blog comes the helpful post Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The signature tower is in progress:
What’s the status of the office buildings? Some are further along than others. One World Trade Center, the site’s signature office building, is going up about a floor per week and is currently around 80 stories out of a total 104, and it’s already the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan.
On the delays:
What’s taken so long? Conflict has been a big theme of the rebuilding. There have been battles with insurers, wars between agencies, and repeated fights between the public sector and private developer Larry Silverstein over how to rebuild and fund his office towers. Those fights have often led to stalemates. Add onto that the fact that the site is extraordinarily complex — it’s often likened to a Rubik’s cube, but it’s sometimes more like a messy ball of rubber bands. The mechanics of the site are all intertwined — exits and emergency systems for the PATH station are in the neighboring towers, and deliveries to One World Trade Center need to run underneath 2, 3, and 4 World Trade Center. This means everything underground had to be built more or less at once, with precision. There is a laundry list of public agencies involved, and historically they hadn’t been great at communicating with each other.
The WSJ also has a great interactive graphic Exploring Ground Zero, Ten Years Later.
9/11 deserves our remembrance today, our continuing thanks for those serving in harm's way, and--secondarily--our commitment to good land use at this very important place for commerce, human activity, and public memory.