New York Considers
Since the collapse, coalitions of design professionals and civic groups have been in a flurry of action, gathering the information necessary to discuss rebuilding.
New York's civic wealth is evident: 17 local organizations have banded together to form New York New Visions, a consortium of design and cultural groups seeking to mobilize a concerted, interdisciplinary response to the destruction.
Meeting in conference rooms across the city, the committees of New York New Visions aren't reaching conclusions yet. Instead they are researching short-term streetscape improvement, mapping the panoply of uses Lower Manhattan represents, and asking long-term questions about the future of public open space downtown.
An important question will be how to present the eventual findings in a way that makes sense of New York's diverse and substantial needs. Specific recommendations are months away.
Recovery Won't Be Rushed
The cleanup process continues to represent a daunting structural challenge. The basement of the 110-story World Trade Center towers was contained in "slurry walls," which also held back the East River.
When the towers collapsed, great amounts of rubble crashed into the seven-story deep basement and into subway and commuter train stations beneath the structures. The collapse also damaged the slurry walls, which are now restrained in place partially by the weight of rubble.
Removing the debris destabilizes the basement walls, which must be re-anchored as each successive layer is removed. According to Richard Tomasetti, a structural engineer overseeing the process, at the current rate, clean-up will take at least eight more months.
The time spent provides time for process, but many regret the wait. Investors and developers worry that by waiting too long, they will lose tenants and rental prices as businesses relocate.
City officials worry that New York will lose valuable tax base. The city is doing all it can to retain businesses, from promising tax breaks and other financial incentives to businesses that stay in lower Manhattan, to offering grants to small businesses affected by the crisis.
As Virginia C. Fields, Manhattan borough president said, "If businesses are going to jump the river, we'd much rather they jumped the river to Long Island, Queens (New York) than to New Jersey."
Some design professionals worry that even if architects forge specific recommendations and vision, developer interests will eclipse the need for careful design.
And some local residents worry that the haste to design without adequate public participation will steamroller a community still in mourning.
What Mix of Design and Politics?
There are additional reasons to feel trepidation. Little of the $54 billion in federal aid promised to rebuild New York has yet arrived. The New York City Partnership, outlining its first assessment of the economic damage to lower Manhattan, predicts that even after that federal support, the city will face deficits of up to $16 billion.
Meanwhile, the city has begun to hand over the reins to a new mayor. In the November 6 election, Democrat-turned-Republican businessman and political novice Mike Bloomberg won out over Democrat Mark Green, a political veteran. Bloomberg has indicated he would maintain outgoing mayor Rudolf Giuliani's disatser response. In fact, Giuliani may remain at the political center of the rebuilding process.
Yet it is not clear how the future mayor will respond to design concerns. At forums in late August, neither candidate seemed well versed in the politics of urban design and development. Both promised to make listening to architects part of any development strategy. The design community will be eager to hold mayor-elect Bloomberg to that promise.
City politicians, of course, are not wholly in control of the World Trade Center site. The site is leased by property magnate Larry Silverstein, who had signed a 99-year lease on the towers barely two weeks before the attacks. Shortly afterwards, he promised to rebuild the towers.
Within weeks, he also made it clear he would consider other design options, including the idea of four 50-story towers. But the design process will need to include federal, state, and local entities, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It is simply too soon to talk about the shape of a building.
Some suggest the World Trade Center site should remain a memorial. Others, including planning commissioner Joseph P. Rose, think leaving the space unbuilt is unlikely. "There is no question that the downtown must remain a viable business district," he said at a public forum early last week.
Rose continued: "Lower Manhattan holds 70 million square feet (6.5 million square meters) of commercial space. Rebuilding it is crucial to the economic well being of our city." Yet, echoing the sentiments of many designers, he stressed that Lower Manhattan has changed. Any rebuilding must take that into consideration. "Lower Manhattan is a 24/7 neighborhood of multiple uses, which include residential life, tourism, as well as many arts organizations."
Marilyn Jordan Taylor, partner and chairman at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, is at the forefront of reconstruction visualization efforts. Taylor offered this call for vision: "It is not merely what we build, but how we build that will show the world what kind of people we are."
Tess Taylor is chapter editor of Oculus, the AIA New York chapter newsletter, and a frequent contributor to Metropolis. She lives in Brooklyn.