One of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.'s biggest mistakes has been inviting the anti-development types into the planning as virtual partners of the rebuilding committee.
The LMDC agreed to cooperate with an ad hoc group known as the Civil Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York on a series of town-hall meetings, ostensibly aimed at gauging public opinion on the rebuilding plans, including a massive all-day event at the Javits Center in July.
This group is the brainchild of the Regional Plan Association, a once-respected planning organization that has declined into a slow-growth, high-tax, government-spending advocate. Joining in this alliance is a Who's Who of groups unconcerned about, or opposed to, a market-driven, robust economyeveryone from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Organization of Women Legal and Educational Defense Fund to social-services organizations, subsidized housing groups, liberal policy think tanks and left-leaning foundations like the Ford Foundation.
What this unwholesome alliance produced at the Javits Center was an unrestrained wallow in sentimentality and anti-development attitudes. Participants divided into small discussion groups led by trained "facilitators." Organizers advised journalists not to interrupt or break the "dynamics" of the groupgobbledygook straight out of group therapy. Organizers even had a contingent of "grief counselors" standing by, as if the mere discussion of rebuilding the WTC were too emotionally stressful for New Yorkers to handle. Not even a hint of the in-your-face resolve that the city displayed after Sept. 11 leavened the proceedings.
The grief-fest, not surprisingly, produced recommendations to reduce the amount of commerce on the site, to tilt Lower Manhattan toward cultural uses and to reserve large tracts of the site's 16 acres for nothing but memorials.
It is especially dismaying to see how far the distinguished head of the LMDC, former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead, has come under the sway of these anti-development activists.
Speaking before the Manhattan Institute, Whitehead proposed a new, state-created tourism industry for Lower Manhattan, organized around a giant memorial, a museum and other cultural uses on the WTC sitea sort of Disneyland of Death. That idea comes straight from the Civic Alliance's agenda, a prescription for a government-controlled, managed economy, with a loony tinge of New Age economics.
Some of the group's work builds upon a report authored for it by Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida. The professor, whose book "The Rise of the Creative Class" is a current fad among trendy economists, believes that the key to a region's economic growth is its ability to attract creative types, gauged by how many homosexuals and bohemians, among other groups, live there.
The professor applied his Gay and Bohemian indexes to Gotham to produce a study entitled "Rebuilding Lower Manhattan for the Creative Age." Out of this claptrap came an economic development plan for downtown that includes not only the state-sponsored tourism-industry proposal, but also further proposals for heavy government investment that would inevitably require higher taxessomething else that the Civic Alliance endorses, though that is exactly what a city struggling to revive itself does not need.