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
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