There was just one problem with yesterday’s News article titled “Alumni to design for ground zero”: the “to.” What is taking New York so long to fill the gaping hole of ground zero, which looks the same today as it has for nearly five years? And more to the point, why should any non-New Yorker care?
Within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mayor Rudy Giuliani promised a quick rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. At the time, it was a necessary statement of bravado in the face of terrorism, a reassuring promise of an eventual return to normalcy. Of course, there were many steps to be taken before rebuilding could be seriously considered, let alone begun. Survivors had to be cared for, and the site had to be cleared of debris and rubble. Then came the search for a design. There were discussions of how new architecture could best serve both the commercial needs of the area and the need to commemorate the attacks. Newspapers printed potential designs. The city held architecture contests and selected a winner. As John Whitehead, the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. said in July 2002, “We will rebuild. It is now not a question of whether, but a question of how.”
Or not. As time drags on, the question of “whether” should not be taken for granted. It’s great that two of the world’s most prominent architects, Lord Richard Rogers and Lord Norman Foster, have signed on to the project. It’s even better that they’re both Yale graduates. But, as my parents have been telling me for years, and as someone should tell the head honchos running this rebuilding circus, perfection can be the enemy of good. Glass panels placed at startling angles could be very nice, as could steel braces and piercing antennas, all called for in the current plans. But none of this will mean anything if the city refuses to stop the quasi-artistic game that it has been playing by courting new, famous architects every time a plan is rejected. By striving to achieve sentimental and, more often than not, overambitious architectural heights with each new set of designs, the city risks never building what it really needs: a secure structure that will fill the ground zero hole and get things downtown moving again.
We were promised a quick reconstruction of ground zero. We were also promised a quick reconstruction of Iraq. Take another look at the Whitehead quotation above, and it could easily be mistaken for a Bushism. More frightening still, it could be dated any time from March 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began, to Nov. 29, 2006. Yesterday, President Bush refused to concede that the situation in Iraq has turned into civil war. He also referred to Iraq as “a sovereign nation which is conducting its own foreign policy.” That’s like saying that the giant pit in the ground in Lower Manhattan is a beautiful structure that serves a functional purpose as an important city building.
President Bush and New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be very different figures, but they have mastered the illusion of rebuilding, at least in their own minds. Both politicians are letting their most important construction projects falter as they turn their attention elsewhere. We know that Bush has been making eyes at North Korea and Iran, two countries that certainly deserve as much scrutiny as possible. But such a shift in focus will be inexcusable if it means that this civil war — and it is just that — will continue indefinitely. As for Bloomberg, just a couple of weeks ago he was pictured in The New York Times happily shoveling during the groundbreaking of the Mets’ new stadium, Citi Field. The Mets get a new corporate ballpark while plans for the Freedom Towers stall.
Maybe President Bush and Mayor Bloomberg could take some advice from Helena Herring and Amy Wojnarwsky, the co-coordinators of Dwight Hall. In their op-ed in yesterday’s News, they wrote of their decision to relocate the organization that “Dwight Hall’s new location … will support and increase our capacity to fulfill our mission of fostering civic-minded student leaders and promoting service and activism in New Haven and around the world.” As explained in the op-ed, Herring and Wojnarwasky carefully considered the tradition of Dwight Hall in its current location, and then moved ahead with new plans for rebuilding that will serve the organization’s goals and not some blind adherence to tradition. Necessary renovations on the existing hall would have compromised the organization’s effectiveness, and so Herring and Wojnarwsky moved on to a new space. If New York politicians and President Bush could admit that their highest goals for ground zero and Iraq are noble but unrealistic, they might accomplish some actual rebuilding by the time the new Dwight Hall opens for business.
Alexandra Schwartz is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.