New York listened

July 26, 2002

IN GOTHAM, greed often rules. But when the stewards of the vast, desolate World Trade Center site unveiled six designs to rebuild a teeming commercial hub there, New Yorkers wanted nothing of the kind.

The designs provoked everything from yawns to disgust at a recent town hall meeting that drew more than 4,000 people, most of them unrelated to the tragedy of Sept. 11. Architectural integrity doesn't account for the range of reactions, although that was part of it - the designs lacked imagination. It was the idea that the stark expanse of downtown Manhattan, the cavernous hole that swallowed more than 2,800 lives, would be built over, built up in such mediocre ways.

That this haunting expanse, now considered hallowed ground by many, would reinvent itself into another corporate behemoth with 11 million square feet of office space, the very same configuration that vanished in the twin towers' collapse.

That's what bothered the people of New York who crowded into a Manhattan convention center to be heard, who gathered in small groups to review the six plans. And everything moving so fast? It hasn't even been a year since that horrific day dawned and city officials were talking about possible design choices in hand by September.

And how to memorialize the victims who perished there? Who can articulate what should be remembered and how?

It's understandable that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the site, would want to capitalize on the space's potential. And, given the magnitude of jobs lost, the commercial flight to New Jersey and Connecticut and the businesses destroyed, the desire to return that area to economic self-sufficiency cannot be minimized. But city officials were right to stop and listen, to reconsider their plans and solicit bolder, more thoughtful proposals and delay a final decision.

The site - which many in this country have embraced as their own because of the attacks on Sept. 11 - deserves its rightful place in the nation's pantheon. But the prospect of redevelopment carries a complex mix of considerations: replacing office, hotel and business space, determining transportation and transit needs, reinvigorating the streetscape and street life, and, of course, deciding on a memorial to the victims.

It should not be rushed.

And if a memorial poses the greatest challenge, why not, for the time being or until the time is right, re-create the towers of blue light that shot into the night sky for a month this spring, an ethereal reminder of those lost in the brilliant blue of a September morning?

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