The human race built most nobly when limitations were greatest. — Limitations seem to have always been the best friends of architecture. — Frank Lloyd Wright
At Yale as elsewhere in the world, one of the clearest things one year after Sept. 11, 2001, is that there can be no single, authoritative perspective, no easy answer to the tragedy or simple explanation of the forces that led up to September’s acts of terror. Each of us must come to terms with the events, and with a new sense of what it means to live in this world post-Sept. 11. As a lifelong New Yorker, my initial response was anger. How dare these people think they could come in and destroy part of my city, part of my home. Those two buildings were a staple of the skyline I had grown up with, and in the course of one morning that skyline had been humbled.
The more I analyzed my response and the many different responses of the people around me, the more one notion became clear — Lower Manhattan must be rebuilt. In thinking about this process, Frank Lloyd Wright’s message offers an optimistic perspective, for we must work within our limitations, and through our complexities, to rebuild Lower Manhattan and heal the physical scar of September’s tragedy. In working at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation this summer, I have had the opportunity to see how the power of limitations can inspire imaginative thought.
In redeveloping downtown New York, the LMDC faces incredible complications and limitations, from the pragmatic needs of the city’s infrastructure (rebuilding the downtown transportation infrastructure that connects much of Manhattan) to the fiscal requirements of the leaseholders (replacing square footage of commercial property lost) to the emotional needs of the various stakeholders, including victims’ families and downtown residents (respecting the space as a memorial and creating areas of public open space).
Working in the planning department of the LMDC, I have watched firsthand as these forces have come together, and as the public input process for the planning of the site began in earnest with the release of the six preliminary concept plans for the site and adjacent areas. These plans began a conversation with the community as a whole.
Never before have I witnessed a process so dedicated to hearing the voice of every constituent. At its core, the process of rebuilding downtown is democracy in action. From advisory councils to regional public meetings to a 5,000-person interactive town hall, the LMDC has and will continue to be tireless in its efforts to let every stakeholder express his or her thoughts. This is New York, lest you forget, and everyone has an opinion.
I encourage you, even as you read this, to get involved in this process yourself, to look at the preliminary concept plans, to check out the LMDC Web site at www.renewNYC.com , and to share your thoughts with the people involved. As we come upon this, the one-year anniversary, it is important that as we remember, we must also rebuild. The new Lower Manhattan we create together will be a testament to those who died one year ago today, as well as to the spirit of the American people. It will be a product of the complex limitations of the situation and also the productive variety of our perspectives. A New York that bounces back stronger and better than ever is a city I feel proud to call my home.
E.B. Kelly is a senior in Branford College.