A park for Ground Zero
Andy’s post last week touched on the latest designs for the “Freedom Tower” at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. I thought today I’d follow up from my perspective as a green-minded local. The terrible news of the bombings in London is an upsetting backdrop, but it reinforces my belief that we need to meet this kind of violence with positive visions for the future and the social and political will to realize them.
Right now, the process and designs for the new World Trade Center don’t cut it.
The rebuilding effort long ago devolved into being more about the agendas of a few elites than what’s best for the life and health (physical, economic, and emotional) of the city. It looks to the past — the hokey insistence on a height of 1,776 feet, re-creation of office space the city almost definitely doesn’t need (and would you want to work on the upper floors of a rebuilt WTC?), and the loss of clean energy generation on the site, even as the daily news is full of changing economics, peak oil, global warming, and war in the Middle East.
The “Freedom Tower” as originally designed by Daniel Liebeskind was an airy, glass-walled structure that combined transparency with scale, encapsulating the endurance and openness of America’s democratic society. In succeeding iterations, the tower has become a military fortress, unconnected to life at a human scale in a civilian environment. I don’t suppose I need to hammer home the symbolism of that. (It’s also James Howard Kunstler’s July 2005 Eyesore of the Month.) Check out this entry on Curbed (a New York real estate blog — yes, we have real estate blogs here) to get an idea of how suffocating the “almost impermeable and impregnable 200-foot base” will be in real life.
The plaza redesign resembles an arid redevelopment right out of the bad days of urban renewal in the 1970s.
Last May I posted to Worldchanging: Why not a park? The New York Times Magazine invited four landscape architecture firms to reimagine ground zero. My favorite interpreted and integrated the geographic, ecological, and urban tensions and cohesions of New York City — a single geo-political entity that combines several landforms containing dozens of distinct communities, linked by waterways and the structures we’ve built above and underneath them — and incorporated process into the outcome.
Soil, young trees, and plants would be cultivated at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where much debris from the WTC was deposited as the site was cleared. The soil and plants would be barged to lower Manhattan along the rivers, on routes similar to those that took commuters to and from their own neighborhoods and parks to the WTC site, which would become a public park.
Maybe I’m insulated by knowing that the chances of ground zero being made into a park are just about nil, but I still believe this would be the most healing way to reflect on the lost lives of 9/11, while committing ourselves to the life and health of the city.
(That NYT Magazine article is now behind the paywall, sadly, but for a sense of the minds behind this idea, check out this 2001 unCITY plan by the same firm, D.I.R.T. Studio. It transforms a nine-acre power plant site along the East River into a vibrant, ecologically enlightened work/live urban community.)