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Monica's Mission: Five Ideas for the Memorial

by Monica Iken, Feb 28, 2003
 

I founded September's Mission less than a month after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. Our mission is to support the development of a memorial park on the former World Trade Center site, a park that ties into the overall redevelopment of lower Manhattan.

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Like many people, I long for the day when I can point to a drawing and say, "that's it." But to get to that point, and to get there faster, we have to define what this memorial is going to say, who it will speak for, and who it will address. We have to provide for more adequate public outreach, really listen. The five following concepts should guide the process: design excellence; holistic planning; the need for adequate green space; transportation alternatives; and last but not least, the importance of sunshine and openness in every facet of the process.

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First and foremost is the concept of design excellence. Nothing less than an international design competition will do justice to what is now or may very well become the most important design commission of the 21st century. The decisions that we make for our memorial-and for the entire trade center site-must withstand the test of time. What we do must be relevant today, tomorrow, 20, 50 and 100 years from now. We owe that to all the souls that were lost, the living and the generations that follow.

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The U.S. General Services Administration and the National Capitol Planning Commission, which oversees all memorial development projects in our nation's capital, provide exemplary models for international design competitions that New York would do well to follow. New federal courthouses throughout the country, the Vietnam veterans' memorial and many other timeless landmarks were conceived through this process. It isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. If we seek the best ideas from around the world through an open, international design competition, I am confident that our memorial can meet and exceed the world's expectations.

The second concept I would like to address is the need for holistic planning. What I mean by that-and what few are grasping-is that the memorial and any other development on the site are intrinsically linked. No matter what we put on the site, we cannot and should not ever erase the enormity of what happened on Sept. 11. The final resting place of our lost souls is not confined to the footprints of the towers. We need to find ways-such as incorporating green space and pedestrian pathways throughout the entire site-to serve the necessary, utilitarian purposes for workers, visitors and residents while also memorializing the site. Design of all structures that are not directly associated with the memorial can and should be respectful. To succeed in creating the most beautiful memorial in the world, the memorial needs good neighbors, and should also be a friend to its neighbors.

The third concept is the critical need for generous green space and adequate landscape buffers between the memorial area of the site and areas that will have other uses. If we don't want lines of people rounding the blocks waiting to see the memorial, we need pedestrian spaces and green spaces to adequately service the memorial. More importantly, these spaces can and should also be an amenity for residents and workers in directly adjacent areas. Lower Manhattan does not have enough green space and recreational space to serve the community. We need places to sit under a tree and read a book, places where children can play, places where couples can stroll, and places where our workers can take a break. If we want to create a living, thriving 24/7 community, we need more green space.

The fourth concept is transportation. Some of the current proposals on the table call for re-extending all or part of the original street grid throughout the site. While I recognize the benefits this provides from a pure urban planning standpoint, extending the street grids above ground is entirely insensitive. They will closely abut the footprint areas of the towers and make it virtually impossible for those who come, especially the families, to pay respects without great distraction. I would ask that our planners and politicians carefully consider an alternative. If it is vital to re-extend streets, depress them below ground through tunnels and preserve the above ground area for pedestrians. We must provide a peaceful place to pay respects. If the streets are extended above ground through the site that will not be possible.

The final concept is sunshine. I believe that sunshine has powerful healing properties and that an open, participatory process is vital to creating a memorial and proper use of the site. The site does not belong to the Port Authority. The site belongs to the citizens of New York and New Jersey that the Port Authority serves. And in a real sense, it also belongs to every taxpayer footing the bill for recovery. We owe it to each and every person in this country to do the right thing. A transparent process, with clear accountability, is critical to creating a fitting memorial that will stand the test of time and express the values we hold dear. We need more sunshine to erase the clouds of Sept. 11.

I lost my husband Michael on Sept. 11. No memorial, no matter how beautiful, will ever heal the hurt I carry in my heart for the absolute terror, pain and suffering that Michael and almost 3,000 others experienced that day when they needlessly lost their lives. No memorial will ever stop the nightmares our survivors, rescue and recovery workers live each day, as they carry the burden of what can only be horrific memories. But we have to take on this extraordinary responsibility, and create the most beautiful memorial the world has ever seen.

Mark Twain once said, "I am all for progress, it is change I object to." In many ways, this sums up the debate going on over the trade center site. Progress is business as usual. Sept. 11 changed that forever. We must now ask ourselves: what kind of life-changing and reaffirming legacy can we leave for the generations that follow? I have every confidence that we will be able to make the right choices.


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