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A Stronger Lower Manhattan is Needed,

Not a New Sports Stadium

By Carter B. Horsley

In the year since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (see The City Review article), New York City has begun to examine redevelopment plans for the World Trade Center site with considerable acrimony and controversy, not surprisingly, and has been selected as one of two finalists to become the American candidate for the site of the 2012 Olympics.

The latter proposal would require serious redevelopment of the train yards west of Pennsylvania Station including a major new sports stadium.

Recently, Larry Silverstein, the developer who is in control of the World Trade Center site, said that the earliest that new office towers could be finished on the World Trade Center site is 2008.

While the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was able, rather remarkably, to come up with six preliminary redevelopment schemes for the World Trade Center site (see The City Review article), they were so heavily criticized that it announced it would seek new architectural ideas. In addition, plans were announced to study whether the insistence of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's on having to replace all of the existing commercial space on the site to meet the legal requirements of its lease with Mr. Silverstein could be circumvented. One of the proposals called for the city to gain control of the site by trading the land under the JFK and LaGuardia airports with the Port Authority. Another proposal suggested broadening the existing site to minimize the amount of space to be built on the present site. Numerous civic groups worked hard on gathering imput from the public and designers and it has now become apparent that the only consensus is that it would be nice if the redevelopment could tunnel, at least partially, West Street that now separates Battery Park City from the rest of Manhattan, and that the temporary tower of lights was very good.

No consensus has been reached on the following major issues:

It would appear that there is a growing public constituency for not building over the footprint of the Twin Towers and the Vista Hotel and that the redevelopment should include at least one "super" tower, a significant cultural facility, and that the memorial space should perhaps be divided into public and private spaces.

Criticism of the six designs published by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation indicated a strong sense that something much more exciting was needed. This was immensely encouraging news for the city, which has wallowed in design mediocrity ever since the publication of Jane Jacob's book, "The Death and Life of Cities," and Robert Caro's book on Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," two important works that skewed public opinion against major public works, Marcy Benstock's incredible defeat of "Westway," the plan to create a waterfront park along the Hudson River, in order to protect the breeding grounds of some striped bass in the Hudson River, and the Vietnam War and Watergate led to a distrust of government officials. The rest of the world has witnessed many spectacular new architectural projects, but many community groups have not gotten over their NIMBY (Not-in-my-back-yard) Syndrome and have bamboozled cowardly public officials and leaders who have very very rarely demonstrated any design sensitivity.

The notion that the redevelopment of the site should be an open design competition (see The City Review article) is good but perhaps a bit premature since many of the above-mentioned questions need to be answered first before any serious plans can be undertaken.

The larger picture needs to be examined. What does the city need and what it possibly be able to achieve? Lower Manhattan cannot be abandoned and replacing the lost commercial space will not help it significantly. It needs better transportation, better access to the Hudson River waterfront, more cultural amenities and more residential development. The Second Avenue Subway does need to get built for the communities on the far Upper East Side, Midtown East and the Lower East Side. A connection needs to be made to bring the Long Island Rail Road to Lower Manhattan and such a connection should become a major transportation hub connecting with several subway lines. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's plan for a major new museum designed by Frank Gehry south of the South Street Seaport would be a world-class attraction for downtown. Westway should be revived in a major way to tunnel much of West Way and if not provide new land for parks at least give easy pedestrian access to the waterfront, initially all along Battery Park City.

These are huge and expensive projects, but their value is obviously more important than a new sports stadium in a location that already is immensely congested and not needed.

They are perhaps even more important than the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site theoretically, but emotionally, of course, they do not appear so. What is critical is that decisions soon to be made do not preclude such other important projects and that they be taken fully into account.

The WTC redevelopment is critical to the city's skyline. The World Financial Center at Battery Park City was designed with the WTC in mind and they helped readjust the embalance of the Lower Manhattan skyline created by the Twin Towers. The city needs to refocus the downtown skyline while also creating proud, thrilling new monuments for this generation that also will be a noble memorial for those who perished in the terrorist attacks.

There has been some talk of the New York City Opera moving to the site, but a new institution might be more appropriate, something that reflects the city's great international heritage, the city's history of finance and labor, and perhaps most importantly, the city's prominence as a communications center.

This is a very great opportunity and hopefully the aroused concerns of the citizenry will unleash a great new renaissance for the city and those who love it greatly. Our leaders, who have been very good in this crisis, need to be patient enough to do the right thing, which is to look to the city's long-term future, not political expediency or "economic" realities.

It would be nice to have the city host the 2012 Olympic Games, but not if it is at the expense of the city's long-term future.

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