Gotham Gazette

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Rebuilding NYC

Rebuilding, Two Years Later

  iotw.2003.09.08.inside Construction at Ground Zero.
© 2003 Associated Press

Whatever the second anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center means to the public at large, to many of those who remain most intimately involved with the aftermath of September 11th -- the thousand construction workers at Ground Zero, the 13 members of the jury charged with selecting a memorial design, the countless architects and engineers and planners designing the new buildings and new transportation facilities and new streets - it means mostly a solemn pause from their focus on the future.

Much has happened since the rebuilding of Ground Zero began in earnest, which could be dated back to the first public hearing in May, 2002, when even those most affected by the historical moment of September 11, 2001 were concerned with what lay ahead: Monica Iken, founder of September's Mission, stood up and said, "I need to know that I can visit that site in the future and have a sense of peace and reflection on my husband's last day on Earth."

That future is much clearer now. New Yorkers who once debated whether the entire site should be dedicated to a memorial, for example, now largely accept that the memorial will be surrounded by a museum, performance art center, transit station and ring of office buildings.

Still, on the second anniversary, many issues remain unresolved, as cultural groups vie for a space at Ground Zero; the jury sorts through thousands of memorial designs; New Yorkers continue to study the environmental impact of 9/11, debate how best to recover from the economic damage, and work to make the city secure from future attacks.

Below, we look at eight issues in rebuilding -- where they are two years after September 11th, and where they are heading.

Table of Contents

• Ground Zero Architecture
• The Memorial
• Cultural Center and Museum
• Transportation
• Economic Rebuilding
• Security
• Health
• Future Anniversaries

Ground Zero Architecture

When officials announced Daniel Libeskind's design as the master plan for Ground Zero this spring, the Polish-born architect gave a breathless presentation of the design. He said that its skyline, with buildings rising in a spiral, was inspired by the twisting form of the Statue of Liberty, which he first saw when he immigrated as a thirteen-year-old to New York City by ship.

But New York City's skyline will not be shaped by Libeskind alone. In fact, he may not design any of the individual buildings that will rise from Ground Zero.

Libeskind's basic vision for the World Trade Center site includes a sunken memorial space that exposes the foundations of the original twin towers, reconnected streets and new public plazas, and a building topped by a spire that rises 1,776 feet into the sky. The Port Authority and Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, who both contracted Libeskind to be the master architect for the World Trade Center site, have pledged that what is actually built will be true to this basic idea.

But developer Larry Silverstein, who has the lease to the World Trade Center site, has long been jockeying for more of a say in the rebuilding plans. And after weeks of meetings and discussions, Libeskind and the architect that Silverstein prefers, David Childs, came to an agreement this summer. Childs, whose past works include the nearly finished AOL Time Warner building at Columbus Circle, will create the actual design for the 1,776-foot tall tower. Libeskind will collaborate with Childs on the design.

And another world famous architect has been added to the mix. In August, the Port Authority chose well-known Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who has designed train stations in Switzerland, Portugal, France and Belgium, to design the new transportation station at Ground Zero. Officials have likened the station to a new downtown Grand Central.

Calatrava will need to work closely with Libeskind, who, as master architect for the World Trade Center site, will set the design guidelines for the station. In Slate, Christopher Hawthorne called Calatrava a choice that is "both obvious and more than a little risky." Obvious, because of Calatrava's experience and reputation -- risky, because the architect is known for being a perfectionist that works alone, without experience in the power struggles that have been a large part of rebuilding so far.

For more on Libeskind's design for Ground Zero, see The Chosen Design on Rebuilding NYC.

The Memorial

Michael Kuo, whose father was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, has visited memorials around the world. He helped write the guidelines that will be used to select a design for a memorial at the World Trade Center site, and, as a planner for Imagine New York, is now organizing a series of public discussions about the memorial. At a hearing before the 13-member jury selecting the memorial design, Kuo stood up and said, "I would urge the jury to prefer designs that really go the extra mile in creating ways for future visitors to experience each of these individual people, so that they can know how special my father was, and how special everyone who was lost was."

Kuo, and the entire public, will see the future design for a World Trade Center site memorial during the next few months. The jury, meeting secretly in an unknown location, is now reviewing 5,200 memorial competition entries - all sent in with a registration number to keep the competition anonymous - and will choose as many as eight finalists this fall. The public will see all of the finalists' designs, and be able to comment on them, before a winning design is selected, but all decisions are up to the jury.

Whichever design the jury chooses, it is nearly impossible that everyone close to the tragedy will approve -- at least at first. In public hearings and other forums, victims' family members, downtown residents and others have voiced conflicting desires for the memorial. Some residents feel that Libeskind's original design for a sunken memorial space should be revised, and brought up to street level so that it doesn't separate one side of the neighborhood from the other.

And people continue to debate how the victims should be recognized. Some, like retired firefighter John Finucane, feel that the rescue workers who ran in to the towers to save those inside should be listed together, with their job titles. Others believe that this would unfairly give some victims more recognition.

Maya Lin's widely celebrated Vietnam Veterans Memorial, famous for its list of names engraved on smooth black granite, orders the names of veterans chronologically, in the order that they died or went missing. But if a memorial at Ground Zero includes a list of names, as it likely will, the names will be filled with additional meaning, because the memorial will house the unidentified remains of those who died on September 11. "The ethos will be different," wrote Michael Kimmelman recently in the Times. "There are no bodies buried at the Vietnam memorial, nor any unaccounted-for remains. That memorial is a list of names, a neutral place to meditate abstractly on the war and on the dead and missing, who are elsewhere."

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Memorial page.

Cultural Center and Museum

To commemorate the second anniversary of the attacks, the New York Historical Society will continuously screen films about September 11, and present performances of the play "The Guys," about a journalist who helps a fire captain write eulogies for firefighters who died on 9/11. The 92nd Street Y is holding a concert, billed as an "evening of memorial and renewal." For two years, these and dozens of New York City's institutions and organizations have been providing a place for people's cultural responses to the tragedy. Some of them may also play a major part in revitalizing lower Manhattan, in a new cultural center and museum at Ground Zero.

In his master plan for the World Trade Center site, architect Daniel Libeskind set aside a location at Vesey Street and a rebuilt Greenwich Street for a performing arts center. He also designed a diamond-shaped museum building, which is cantilevered over the memorial area at the center of the World Trade Center site.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has given cultural organizations until September 15 of this year to send in preliminary proposals for the arts center, the museum -- which will interpret the events of September 11 -- and other buildings set aside for culture inside the site.

The 92nd Street Y is working on a plan to open a new branch at the performing arts center that would share space with other groups, including the New York City Opera, which is looking to leave Lincoln Center and move to Ground Zero. The Y has also talked with Hunter College, which is interested in opening an academic arts program at the site, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Joyce Theater, whose director envisions a downtown dance studio with glass walls to allow people walking by to look in on rehearsals.

For now, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has asked cultural groups to send information and ideas, not formal proposals. The corporation has not said when they will make a final decision about which groups to include, but as they move forward with the project to create a cultural center at Ground Zero, wrote Martha Hostetter in Gotham Gazette, rebuilding officials should look for lessons from New York City's first attempt to use culture to revitalize a neighborhood: Lincoln Center. Some of Lincoln Center's mistakes - its huge, hard to fill performance spaces, separation from the street, and lost revenue opportunities - should not be repeated, Hostetter writes.

The 9/11 interpretive museum has also garnered interest from city institutions, including the New York Historical Society, which preserved many of the spontaneous memorials that people created across the city after September 11. Tom Bernstein, who owns the Chelsea Piers complex along with rebuilding official (and close friend of President George Bush) Roland Betts, is leading a campaign to create a "Museum of Freedom" at Ground Zero.

As planning continues for the museum, the debate over what September 11 means for New York, the United States, and the world will focus on this one building. Many people may believe that there are different foundations or assumptions by which a museum should "interpret" 9/11. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp recently wrote that the underlying assumption behind Bernstein's Freedom Museum, as he sees it, is that "freedom has been assaulted, therefore retaliation is legitimate." But, writes Muschamp, "Not everyone saw the twin towers as symbols of freedom. For some, they represented the Kafkaesque mental enslavement of government bureaucracy and dull office routine. For others, they stood for Rockefeller power: for oil, that is to say, and the bizarre things we do to satisfy our need for it."

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Arts and Culture page.


Planners envision Ground Zero not only as a new center for culture, but as a transportation hub as well. Santiago Calatrava's transit station, which will include a permanent PATH station, is just one of the many transportation projects planned for lower Manhattan. Early this year, the federal government agreed to provide $4.55 billion to build the hub, as well as a new subway complex called the Fulton Street Transit Center, which will unite four subway stations and nine lines and connect to Calatrava's hub underground. The funding will also go towards rebuilding the 1 and 9 South Ferry station, and improving lower Manhattan's streets and public places.

Officials are also developing plans to bring West Street underground in a tunnel for a short stretch along the World Trade Center site - an idea that many residents oppose. They are also studying how best to create a way for people to travel by train directly from lower Manhattan to the Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.

One difficult transportation debate may be resolved: officials originally proposed building a garage for tourist buses beneath the 9/11 memorial, angering many victims' family members who feel that the place where their loved ones died is sacred ground. Now, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is developing plans to build the garage in another place near Ground Zero but not under its 16-acres.

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Transportation page.

Economic Rebuilding

This summer, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation held small workshops with invited community members in neighborhoods throughout downtown to talk about how the agency should spend the about $1 billion that remain in its coffers. In front of the Chinatown school where one meeting was held, a group of protesters stood outside, chanting "LMDC shame on you!"

The protesters were frustrated by the ways that federal aid has been spent so far, and they said they were angry that officials are just now turning to help Chinatown, where September 11 has had crippling effects on the economy.

Many of the grant programs that distributed federal aid funds to downtown residents and businesses came to a close this spring, amidst calls for extensions and complaints that those most in need of monetary help did not receive it. The advocacy group Labor Community Advocacy Network to Rebuild New York held a march in July, calling on the development corporation to spend its remaining billion on job creation programs.

Right now, New York City is losing jobs, not creating them. New York City Comptroller William Thompson recently reported that New York City's recession has continued for 30 months, as the city economy continued to shrink from April to June. The city has lost 241,500 jobs since the local recession started in January 2001 and was then worsened by the September 11 attacks, according to Thompson. The effects of the attacks on the city's economy have been longer lasting and more serious than previously estimated, and this spring the city continued to lose jobs faster than the country as a whole, the comptroller found.

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Economic Rebuilding page.


This March, New Yorkers again saw members of the National Guard standing with machine guns along subway platforms and in front of city landmarks, as they did after September 11. As soon as the war began with Iraq, the police department put the security plans that they had been developing since 9/11 into place. The city launched "Operation Atlas," bringing thousands of heavily armed police officers to protect major subway stations, bridges, tunnels and other places that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called "signature locations."

The federal government's special registration program, which was developed late last year to make it easier to track immigrants from countries where the government believes that terrorist groups are active, created a difficult situation in many New York City immigrant neighborhoods. Immigrants without a green card (which included those here on student or work visas, those in the process of applying for a green card, and those who are undocumented ) from 25 different, largely Muslim countries were required to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Service (formerly called the Immigration and Naturalization Servi ce) before this spring. Some were charged with crimes, others were detained for minor visa regulations, and many, especially undocumented immigrants, avoided registering altogether and fled the country.

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Security page.


On September 18, 2001, Christine Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told the public, "I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breathe," and many New Yorkers returned to their homes and jobs in lower Manhattan.

Much has changed since that day. Studies of people who lived and worked downtown during the fall of 2001 have found that many have developed respiratory illnesses from breathing dust from the World Trade Center site, dust that included ground up glass fibers, lead, concrete dust and asbestos.

In a new report (in pdf format), the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general found that the White House influenced the agency to reassure people it was safe to breathe the air downtown, even before tests had been finished. The agency's own tests, carried out in May 2002, found that mice exposed to Ground Zero dust developed respiratory problems.

"I have just one question for the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House: Why?" asked Joseph Dolman in Newsday. "I think Washington is going to regret its lack of candor on this issue for years. The next time it needs to offer reassurance on a complicated matter of public health - the next time it needs to calm people down or alert them to a present danger - who's going to believe it?"

Experts say that air quality has now returned to normal in New York City, but many area research hospitals are studying the long-term effects of exposure to the air downtown and in Brooklyn after 9/11, and some doctors are concerned that new construction downtown, with dust and exhaust from trucks, will exacerbate people's health problems.

Babies born to mothers who were pregnant on September 11, 2001 and lived and worked downtown were twice as likely to be smaller than normal, according to a Mount Sinai School of Medicine study of 187 women and their newborn babies. And nearly all of the 6,100 workers in offices and businesses below Canal Street who are participating in a Mount Sinai Hospital study are experiencing chronic choking feelings, gasping for air, and other asthma-like symptoms. Dr. Steven Levin, the leader of the study, has said that they are suffering from a type of asthma called Reactive Airways Disease Syndrome.

A Queens College study of 415 immigrant workers who cleaned up businesses and apartments near Ground Zero after September 11 found that nearly all of them had developed long lasting health problems, including chest pain, congestion and respiratory irritation. And studies of police officers and firefighters who worked at Ground Zero during the recovery found that they are also suffering respiratory problems, which researchers dubbed the "World Trade Center cough."

For more on this topic, see Rebuilding NYC's Health page.

Future Anniversaries

The site where the Twin Towers once stood is now usually filled around the clock with workers, preparing to bring back the PATH trains that stopped running on September 11, 2001. Rows of lights already shine on an empty concourse down in the construction site, and the station (which will later become part of Santiago Calatrava's downtown transit hub) will reopen this November. When it does, Ground Zero will stop being a huge hole in lower Manhattan that the public looks in on, but never actually enters.

By the third anniversary of the attacks, tens of thousands of commuters will have been traveling back and forth each day between New Jersey and the PATH station in Ground Zero for nearly a year. Officials are scheduled to have broken ground to build the 1,776-foot tall tower that will rise from the northwest corner of the site, and New Yorkers will likely know a great deal more about what they will see downtown a dozen years later, on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.

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