Memorialists vs. Rebuilders?
These posts went up on Gotham Gazette's message board about rebuilding issues just last week. Nearly a year after the attacks, there continue to be very emotional, deeply felt -- and mutually exclusive -- ideas about what should be built at the World Trade Center site.
In a July New York Post survey, about half of the New Yorkers polled supported rebuilding the twin towers as they were before the attack. At the same time, a recent New York Times/CBS poll indicated that nearly a quarter want to dedicate the entire site to a 16-acre memorial. Preliminary results from Gotham Gazette's Ground Zero Planner show these same conflicting views.
Rebuilding officials did not include either of these options in the six plans they released last month. But some advocates say they are ignoring the will of the people.
What happens when faced with such irreconcilable positions? How can the public be a driving force behind rebuilding, when it is so split? How will anything get done?
TALKING IT OUT
Experts in grief responses and conflict resolution, as well as people who were involved in similar polarized situations in the past, all say that it can happen, but it will take time.
"There may not ever be consensus, but I think we can strive for it," said Susan Gerbino, a professor at New York University's school of social work who has studied grief. So much controversy originally surrounded the design for the Vietnam memorial that a second monument, a statue of three servicemen, was added. However, decades later, Maya Lin's design of a simple black wall engraved with the names of Americans killed in the war is universally celebrated for its powerful simplicity.
Slowing down the planning process could help, said Gerbino. "You cannot rush grief, and you cannot rush these plans," she said. "Families may feel one way now, and they might feel differently after the one year anniversary."
Wanting to rebuild the towers is also, in a way, about grieving for what happened, said Maria Volpe, director of the City University of New York's Dispute Resolution Consortium. Many New Yorkers identified with the World Trade Center as a symbol of the city, she said. "The buildings became a symbol," said Volpe, "In many ways, it is an identity thing for people, because in New York we pride ourselves in being bigger than and better than."
William Hirschfield, a professional conflict mediator who worked as a facilitator at Listening to the City, said that providing more places for people to talk about rebuilding - such as the July 20th public meeting, where groups of ten people listened to each others' ideas before submitting suggestions--is the best way to move toward a common ground. "I believe that talk works," said Hirschfield. "Listening to the City was very cooperative, with people thinking, 'how do we build on that?' instead of a traditional public meeting where everyone just gets their own two minutes."
A man at the table that Hirchfield moderated firmly supported rebuilding the towers, he said. "So we talked about how economically this might not make sense, and the environmental and safety laws that the original buildings violated," said Hirchfield. "He later acknowledged that buildings on the site wouldn't have to include offices on the top floors, that for him, the skyline was the most important thing."
HOW HAVE THE POSITIONS CHANGED?
There are other signs that even the most adamant positions can shift. Right after the attack, many grieving families were reluctant to even consider building anything on the site. In his farewell address, former mayor Rudy Giuliani told the city that the 16-acre site should be dedicated to a memorial, saying, "I really believe we shouldn't think about this site out there...as a site for economic development. We should think about a soaring, monumental, beautiful memorial."
However, after a February poll showed that about 75 percent of New York City voters wanted to see office and apartment buildings on the site in addition to a memorial, many groups reconsidered their position. Now, many victims' family members like September's Mission founder Monica Iken, who once supported only a memorial on the site, are calling for just the footprints where the towers once stood to be preserved.
Rebuild groups like Team Twin Towers, however, have only become more vocal. In October 2001, almost two-thirds of New York state voters supported rebuilding the World Trade Center, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. A wide-reaching poll has not been conducted recently, but a July survey of 609 people in the five boroughs by the New York Post (which has itself advocated for the towers to be rebuilt) indicated that 48 percent of New Yorkers support rebuilding the twin towers, while 50 percent oppose the idea.
If rebuilding planners are able to develop a new plan that captivates everyone's imagination, staunch advocates may be willing to rally around it. "I would like to see the towers the way they were, but I am not going to be dogmatic about it," explained Nicole Gelinas, who wrote a New York Post column supporting the towers' return. "If I see a plan for a truly bold building, I might support it."
But the first six plans weren't even close to shaking her convictions, she said.