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Manhattan Institute

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Off On The Wrong Track


Off On The Wrong Track

October 31, 2002
Urban PolicyOtherCrimeNYC

Rebuilding should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Despite our sentimental attachment to the Twin Towers after the bombing, their design was a mistake. They also cut off other Lower Manhattan neighborhoods from one another with their barrier-like raised plaza, forbiddingly deserted at night and on weekends.

A sensible approach would encourage a rebuilding that restores the streets that originally divided the huge site into 12 city blocks, on which the private market could construct a series of buildings of different uses. This allows the underground stores and restaurants of the WTC to come up to street level, re-creating a real neighborhood, with auto and pedestrian traffic and street life.

The effect of this design would be to transform the area of the WTC, previously a business-only district that closed down after 6 p.m., into a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week urban neighborhood.

Last fall, City Journal published a plan for Lower Manhattan by the architects Franck Lohsen McCrery that sought to achieve all these ends. It remains the most successful attempt yet seen at a vigorous rebuilding that offers both a dynamic new neighborhood and a respectful, appropriate approach to a multi-block memorial for the victims - without undermining the site's importance as the commercial center of Lower Manhattan.

But the debate continues to march away from this notion. Case in point: The design published in The New York Times Magazine, commissioned from a team of the nation's trendiest planners and architects.

This group produced a scheme of almost comic triviality, an array of cringing, twisted structures cowering along the edges of a featureless park. And the plan does nothing to re-establish a sense of neighborhood.

Part of the problem is that the LMDC has insisted from the beginning that discussions about the site must center upon a possible memorial or memorials to those who died. But the memorial is perhaps the most emotional feature of the WTC site, and trying to make crucial decisions about it now promises to complicate the rebuilding further, adding another layer of contention and delay to the process.

A wiser approach would be to set aside some land for the memorial, then allow time to pass before actually designing and constructing it. Meanwhile, the rest of the reconstruction can proceed. This is exactly what the Pentagon has done so successfully.