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Rebuilding NYC - Rebuilding Roundup Archive: July
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Rebuilding Roundup Archive: July

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Friday, July 26

This past weekend, 4,300 people attended a town hall meeting sponsored by the Civic Alliance called Listening To The City. The event was an opportunity for the public to respond to the six plans for the World Trade Center site released by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. While the crowd at the event represented the economic and racial diversity of the city and the region, there was almost unanimous agreement that the planners and the public officials would have to go back to the drawing board. Most of the people in attendance agreed that the plans drawn up by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority included too much office space and not enough residences or cultural amenities. Many also faulted the plans for being mediocre instead of majestic. While the event attracted thousands, some held doubts about whether the opinions expressed at the public forum would really make an impact on the final decisions. Only a third of the attendees said they were "confident" or "very confident" that their voices would be heard.

Public officials responded immediately to the public's criticism of the plans, hinting that some adjustments to the timeline of the process could be changed while officials examined different plans and ideas. In an online chat with Gotham Gazette this past week, Lou Tomson said, "I am ready to recommend an extension of one to three months for this phase of the planning process." Officials also addressed the Port Authority's leases with Larry Silverstein and Westfield America, which require that the commercial space be restored to the area. Mayor Bloomberg said, "If leases and contracts and agencies happen to be in the way, all of those things can be negotiated." And Jack Sinagra, Chairman of the Port Authority, said that the Port Authority would not suffer greatly financially if it did not rebuild all 11 million square feet of office space lost in the World Trade Center attacks. However, a spokesperson for Larry Silverstein responded to rumors that Port Authority may seek to cancel its lease with Silverstein by saying, "Larry has no intention of backing out of this."

While the public waits to see what becomes of the World Trade Center site, there was news this week that at least one rebuilding project was ahead of schedule. Reports from the MTA indicate that the 1, 2, 3 and 9 subway lines will be back on track downtown in mid-September, two months ahead of schedule. The 2 and 3 will run express again, while the 1 and 9 will run all the way to South Ferry. The money for these repairs, along with more funds for rebuilding the city, is now on its way from Washington to New York. This week the House and Senate approved a bill that will send $5.5 billion more to New York, bringing the total federal aid to $21.4 billion.

Friday, July 19

This week, just over 10 months after the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, the officials of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation presented their first six plans for rebuilding at Ground Zero. All six plans had the word "memorial" in the title, with memorial space between 5 and 10 acres incorporated into each of the plans. Three of the plans call for building on the footprints of the towers. The six proposals also included the restoration of virtually all the commercial space that was destroyed on September 11, as well as the creation of a transportation hub for downtown. None of the six plans included the construction of new housing, but the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation suggested that some existing buildings bordering the site could be developed for housing.

Response to the plans has been mixed at best. Editorials in the Times and the Daily News blasted the proposals for being "dreary" and said that the Port Authority's demands for office space are decreasing the creative possibilities. The Port Authority required that any design had to include the 11 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of commercial space and 800 hotel rooms lost in the attacks. Civic leaders and urban planners also expressed disappointment, saying that the plans reflected the needs of real-estate developers and retailers, not those of downtown residents. John Whitehead, chair of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, remarked that the plans are merely a "starting point" and could be scrapped for a seventh plan that doesn't follow the Port Authority's requirements, while Alex Garvin, head planner for the agency, spoke optimistically about the plans after their release.

The public will get a chance to weigh in on the six proposals at the Javits Center this Saturday, when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation together with civic groups throughout the city will host a town hall meeting. At the all-day event, called Listening To The City, the public will be able to provide feedback to public officials about the plans.

Friday, July 12

While the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city-state agency in charge of rebuilding downtown, is not officially unveiling its six plans for the World Trade Center site until next week, those who have seen the plans are already criticizing them. Reports this week indicated that all of the proposals restore all of the office and retail space that was destroyed September 11. A few of the plans reportedly call for construction on the space formerly occupied by the southern tower, which would contradict the promise by Governor George Pataki not to build on either of the footprints of the towers. All of the corporation's proposals do leave space for a memorial, but none of them set aside any areas for housing. The lack of any housing ignores the revised set of guidelines for rebuilding released by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation this week. These updated guidelines encourage the development of affordable housing, excellence in design, and improved safety guidelines for any buildings on the site.

This week an analysis by the New York Times revealed that technical difficulties, departmental feuding and management problems all hindered the ability of rescue workers to save themselves on September 11. Some within the fire department believe that the radio system failed that morning and that many firefighters never heard the order to leave the towers. On the heels of this report, authorities said that they had discovered a tape recording of the communications between firefighters on September 11, but had never listened to it. While fire officials did listen to the tape by the week's end, this news drew concern from some corners as to whether or not the department's own investigation into what happened on September 11 was as thorough as it should be.

Those affected economically by the attacks received support from Senator Hillary Clinton this week. Clinton announced that she would propose legislation in Washington to extend the expiration date of federal unemployment insurance for another 13 weeks. The insurance was scheduled to end last month. Her comments accompanied the release of a study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company that detailed the cost of continuing relief for direct and indirect victims of September 11. The study estimates that over $700 million will be required over the next year to provide adequate assistance. Most of this aid, the report says, would be aimed at assisting those who have lost their jobs or income as a result of the attacks to pay for long-term mental health services.

Friday, July 5

New Yorkers came together this week to celebrate the first Fourth of July since September 11. Thousands braved the oppressive heat and gathered along the East River to watch the annual fireworks display on the nation's 226th birthday. Halfway through the fireworks celebration, a giant Liberty Bell was illuminated and bells tolled for the more than 2,800 who perished in the World Trade Center. Another memorial of sorts was unveiled in Union Square Park in the form of a 60-by-120-foot quilt commemorating the victims of September 11. While the police department was on high alert throughout the city, with military jets, police helicopters and even a police blimp monitoring the skies and the ground, there were no reported terrorist incidents in the city. Security remains on high alert through the weekend, with checkpoints at bridges still in effect.

Governor George Pataki made his most specific remarks on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site this week when he said that the footprints of the towers should be preserved for a memorial. "We will never build where the towers stood," said Pataki at a ceremony at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to honor those who died in the attacks. "They will always be a lasting memorial for those that we lost." While his remarks were greeted with a standing ovation by the 400 victims' relatives in attendance, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expressed concern about the statement and said, "I may not ultimately be opposed to the governor's proposal, but I would rather see a public process take place before a final decision is made."

The city-state agency created by Governor Pataki to take charge of the rebuilding downtown, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, chose Anita Contini, a Merrill Lynch executive long involved in downtown cultural events, to oversee the building of a memorial to the victims of Sept. 11. Anita Contini was formerly the Artistic Director of the World Financial Center Arts and Events Program and a founder of Creative Time, Inc., which in March cooperated with other arts organizations to bring the Tribute In Light to the Manhattan skyline. While it is not immediately clear what her exact role will be, the forthcoming announcement of the details of the memorial design process from the corporation later this month will undoubtedly clarify how the process will be carried out.

After months of criticism, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it was changing its eligibility criteria to allow aid to thousands more people who suffered economic hardship as a result of the September 11 attacks. According to the new guidelines, anyone who lived or worked in Manhattan and suffered financially because of the attack may now be eligible for the financial assistance if they are in danger of being evicted. Others in the surrounding boroughs who worked for businesses that were economically dependent on Lower Manhattan, from cabdrivers to factory workers, may also be eligible. Up until now, those seeking aid from the agency had to prove their economic problems were a "direct result" of the attack, a much stricter criteria. To apply, you can call the Federal Emergency Management Agency toll-free registration line at 1-800-462-9029, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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