Opinions of 300
Holly Leicht, co-director of Imagine New York
Last week, 300 people met again [as part of the Imagine New York project], this time to tour the exhibit and to discuss the nine plans in facilitated roundtable discussions. We are still in the process of fully analyzing what the 27 groups had to say, and there are 4,000 submissions to our website, but I wanted to give you all a preliminary report on what we heard last week here tonight, specifically about a few important issues, most of which you addressed earlier.
First of all, the memorial and sacred space. Overwhelmingly, we heard concern that the memorial process should come before a plan for the rest of the site. Many felt that a majority of the plans focused too much on restoring the skyline and that the memorial felt like an "afterthought."
That being said, there were certain memorial elements in the designs that met with almost universal favor. Again and again, we heard praise for Studio Libeskind's proposal to preserve the bathtub and slurry walls.
Other popular memorial ideas were Libeskind's "Wedge of Light," and the Meier Team's "Shadow Groves" stretching into the Hudson, as well as THINK's reprise of "The Tribute in Light" in its World Cultural Center design.
The idea of multiple memorial spaces, such as the Meier Team proposed, and the ability to experience memorials from different perspectives, both below and above grade, as Libeskind, Foster and United Architects suggest, were well received.
For parks and public open space, we heard repeatedly that people prefer public open space to be outdoors and at grade rather than enclosed or elevated. The concept of riding an elevator to public space did not sit well with participants.
People gravitated toward plans that maximize green space - making Foster's proposal to deck West Street and Peterson-Littenberg's promenade on West Street very popular. They also want to see connections to the Hudson waterfront, as Foster's and the Meier Team's designs do.
For street life and pedestrian access in general, participants felt that all the plans improve on public access relative to the former World Trade Center site. Peterson-Littenberg was widely considered the most pedestrian-friendly design, but was repeatedly described as "uninspiring" on other elements. There was support for the reintroduction of the street grid, though many hope to see the streets limited to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
In community and historic context, what seemed most important to participants was not whether the site's architecture blends into existing architecture but rather that the plan connect the site to the surrounding communities, and acknowledge and respect the historic links between the site and the rest of Lower Manhattan. Foster's and the Meier Team's proposals, as well as Peterson-Littenberg's promenade, were commended for connecting the site westward to the World Financial Center and the river. There was concern that many of the designs, including United Architects, SOM and the Meier Team, isolated the site from the east side of Lower Manhattan. Libeskind's plan was praised for having "gateways" to the rest of the city.
Participants liked when the architects made an attempt to tie St. Paul's into the site. THINK's Sky Park and Peterson-Littenberg's design were commended for doing this successfully.
For mix of uses we heard widespread concern that the plans emphasize design too much, and that uses should be determined before buildings are designed. Participants felt the program given to the architects did not place enough emphasis on mixed uses and were particularly concerned that there is inadequate allowance for affordable housing. Retail is a primary concern as well, and most participants want to see a combination of street-level and underground retail space. They also discussed the importance of encouraging non-profits and cultural uses, and an international entity such as a world tolerance center. Finally, it was felt that the spaces on the site should be adaptable to change over time.
There was not a single plan that the public designated as their "winner." The Libeskind and Foster plans received the most positive overall response, but almost every plan had elements that were singled out for praise.
Many participants were concerned that the program for redevelopment requires so much office and retail, resulting in too much density on the site. There also continues to be a lively public debate about height. Some for psychological reasons felt there shouldn't be height, others felt there should, that that is an important message, and still others were concerned about the market issues.
Many participants said that the memorial and transportation should be the most immediate priorities. Many called for a master plan that emphasizes uses over design, and focuses not just on the sixteen acres, but all of lower Manhattan and the region. The mayor's vision for lower Manhattan was brought up often, and there was widespread interest in initiating public comment, and a process to integrate his proposal with the planning process for the site.
Finally, the public wants to be more involved and better informed about decision making for the site. There was also a strong sentiment that it is time for a single entity to take control of the redevelopment process. Many participants feel it is time to consolidate jurisdiction over the site's future and the city of New York was most often identified as the entity people want to see in charge. Participants called for one governmental body to develop a transparent long-term process for the rebuilding, to be solely accountable for that process. Leadership and a democratic process can and should co-exist, and the participants of Imagine New York feel the time for a visionary leader to take control of this process is upon us.