Issue of the Week

Competing Visions

By Laura Wolf-Powers

10 June 02

Over the last few months, four of the major civic coalitions that sprang up spontaneously to help in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan have published separate reports outlining its vision. It is true that, on certain issues,

Report Title Date published Organization Conveners Members
Principles for the Rebuilding of Lower Manhattan February 2002 New York New Visions Coordinated by the New York City Partnership, the Real Estate Board of New York and the Civic Alliance (see below) 20 architecture, planning, and design organizations
Interim White Paper: Rebuilding Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center February 19, 2002 Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.Dot) Led by architect Beverly Willis, Director of the Architecture Research Institute; Metropolis Magazine Editor-in-Chief Susan Szenasy; and Tribeca community activist and consultant Liz Abzug Lower Manhattan residents, businesses, community and business associations, artists, colleges, professionals, architects, and designers together with public officials and appointees
Policy Statement April 24, 2002 Labor Community Advocacy Network to Rebuild New York Fiscal Policy Institute and the Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO Over 50 New York labor unions, community groups, research and advocacy organizations, and service providers.
A Planning Framework to Rebuild Downtown New York (Draft report) April 26, 2002 Civic Alliance Regional Plan Association of New York, in partnership with New York University, New School University and Pratt Institute Over 85 civic business academic and environmental organizations
the plans speak with virtually the same voice, including the importance of an appropriate memorial; environmental sustainability and "green architecture"; the desirability of mixed-use development; the key economic role of mass transit.

Beneath a surface of consensus, however, the reports diverge. From a close reading of the four documents, two rifts emerge. The first involves two competing visions of downtown as a community for residents and as one for commuters and their employers. The second involves three overlapping yet distinct conceptions of the economic recovery process for the city: one focused primarily on rebuilding the public infrastructure needed to sustain the Class A office market and its high-end tenants and employees, one oriented toward small business proprietors and "emerging industries" with distinctive space needs, and a third devoted to helping low-income New Yorkers affected by 9/11. Differences of opinion are evident within as well as between the documents. The Civic Alliance, for example, whose membership overlaps substantially with that of the other three groups, uncomfortably contains several visions at once within its redevelopment framework.

Whose Town is Downtown?

R.Dot's proposals focus on creating a hospitable environment in lower Manhattan for residents and the small businesses and institutions that serve them. The group's mission links the priorities of lower Manhattanites to those of the city and region as a whole by arguing that the area "should attract and serve people who provide the intellectual, entrepreneurial, creative and technological capabilities that empower New York City's economy and the richness of its multi-cultural life." The new downtown should be more walkable than the pre-9/11 version, they say, with more open space, better amenities, better management of automobile traffic, and buildings designed to minimize environmental impacts.

R.Dot's proposals came out early, and in many cases set the tone for later consensus, particularly with respect to urban design and street management. The notion that West Street should be eliminated as a barrier between Battery Park City and the rest of lower Manhattan has been incorporated into subsequent blueprints (including New York New Visions', the Civic Alliance's and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporations's). This is true as well with a proposal to keep construction by Con Edison on the Building 7 site from blocking the continuation of Greenwich Street and the restoration of the original street grid. Architect Beverly Willis, an R.Dot leader, also credits the group with winning near-term grants and incentives for area small businesses, a measure she says is "the glue that's kept Lower Manhattan together in the past few months."

But some of R.Dot's priorities may eventually conflict with those of two groups more concerned with Lower Manhattan's role as a regional hub. While attentive to pedestrian-friendly design and open space, the Civic Alliance and New York New Visions devote more of their ink to infrastructure projects geared toward getting back to business as usual downtown. More than anything, this means the restoration and enhancement of regional transit networks. Both coalitions recommend a new transit hub connecting multiple subways and commuter rail systems on the east side and linking them to the World Financial Center; an expanded harborwide network of ferries and water taxis; and, in the case of New York New Visions, a Lower Manhattan version of Grand Central Station above-ground on the former WTC site.

These proposals for massive new commuter infrastructure rarely clash directly with R.Dot's vision, but one area remains sticky: underground vs. above-ground retail. The Civic Alliance plan incorporates the Port Authority's Grand Concourse project, which would connect PATH trains with multiple subway lines on the east side of Manhattan and feature "moving sidewalks and retail space in an attractive environment," [replacing the World Trade Center's underground mall.] Says R.Dot leader Willis, "We are opposed to having anything but service retail underground. Retail should serve communities." Willis believes that the developer who holds the lease on the WTC mall should be bought out by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to make way for more resident- and tourist-friendly retail development.

Questions have also been raised about the representation of less affluent, less politically connected residents in the visioning of a new downtown. Residents and small business owners from Chinatown and the Lower East side argue that businesses and residents in Chinatown and other low- and moderate-income communities (both downtown and around the city) have not been heard in a rebuilding dialogue that has largely focused on Battery Park City and Tribeca. These communities want the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and other agencies to focus more on joblessness and the impacts of 9/11 on the poor. At the corporation's first public hearing, members of organizations with names like Rebuild with a Spotlight on the Poor and the Beyond Ground Zero Network protested that the recovery grants and tax incentives have been disproportionately targeted to affluent downtown residents and large businesses. They charged that recovery efforts have been particularly unfair to small businesses in downtown's less affluent communities.

The Economic Ends of Rebuilding

Disagreement over aims and ends is central to the differences in the economic development aspects of the reports.

The New York New Visions document, for example, implies that investment in transport infrastructure and public space downtown will drive the region's economic recovery by re-stimulating the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors. Downtown, according to the report, "is the nation's symbol of finance and one of the most important components of the city's tax base. Restoring downtown must keep the base, strengthen it and make it competitive." The design innovations that New York New Visions recommends are geared toward making downtown more livable for residents and attractive to visitors. Particularly in the transportation arena, though, they accord with a vision of Lower Manhattan as a high-end financial hub ("The New York Stock Exchange, the major symbol for downtown, is the key to New York's financial future," says the coalition).

The Labor Community Advocacy Network's policy statement argues against this course of action, however, attempting to shift the terms of debate toward "getting New Yorkers back to work" and diversifying the city's economy. Rebuilding, the LCAN statement asserts, "must be linked to all the people, businesses and communities damaged by September 11, not just those in Lower Manhattan or in high-wage industries." The report calls on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to dedicate $2.7 million in federal block grant funds to a citywide job creation strategy: 25,000 short-term public sector jobs, 50,000 publicly subsidized jobs in the private sector. It also recommends a new "multi-sectoral strategy" -- land use, workforce development and business development interventions to nurture industries that provide more middle-income jobs than FIRE industries (the document recommends apparel, restaurants and the airport sector). LCAN's members worry, according to Fiscal Policy Institute staff member David Dyssegard-Kallick, that "to the extent that money [for redevelopment] is out there it's going to reinforce a status quo that was very problematic for most New Yorkers." LCAN's transportation recommendations for Lower Manhattan also include provisions for freight movement along with the movement of people, separating this document even further from the post-industrial blueprint of New York New Visions.

If LCAN and New York New Visions represent the two ends of a scale in the economic devel-opment debate, the Civic Alliance sits somewhat awkwardly between them. The Alliance, whose multiple members encompass both the banks and real estate development firms who initiated New York New Visions and the labor groups who founded LCAN, supports both the restoration and maintenance of the FIRE cluster and measures to diversify the city's economy. The Civic Alliance document projects that financial and high-end services will again reach "critical mass" in Lower Manhattan, but it also advocates broad, sector-oriented support programs in place of incentives to individual firms. The Civic Alliance's middle-range position is also oriented toward developing new, innovative industries that, absent zoning interventions or economic incentives, would not be able to afford to locate downtown.

To alleviate poverty, the Civic Alliance plan urges a coordinated city and state affordable housing strategy, brownfields redevelopment, career-oriented job training and support for manufacturing retention throughout the city. But the majority of the plan's discussion on these topics, (and all of its concrete policy proposals) is restricted to a section titled "Social, Economic and Environmental Justice" rather than being integrated into the report's Economic Development section. Some advocates fear that the "Social, Economic and Environmental Justice" section functions as a kind of ghetto for ideas that, while tolerated in the context of an open planning process, will not be taken seriously by those with decision-making power at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Says Dyssegard-Kallick, "It's an odd policy environment. People are talking about a process of inclusion, and there has been inclusion, but the 'consensus' doesn't acknowledge a lot of what's been put forward."

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See "Working In Coalition" and "Rebuilding By Consensus?"

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