- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

NEW YORK An exasperated city official muttered recently that there were probably as many designs to replace the World Trade Center as there were battle plans to invade Iraq.
The remark was made only half in jest. Clashing cultural imperatives, not to mention the political considerations at play in an election year, have turned the visions of what should rise on the barren 16-acre site into a planner's nightmare.
At issue is the balance of commercial interests with those of the victims' families who stand firm for a substantial and pristine memorial. Some of them want a memorial under the auspices of the National Park Service.
"If this continues a kumbaya session about what to do with the site we're not going to see anything for 10 to 15 years," said Russ Smith, editor of the New York Press, who lives five blocks from the site and harbors vivid memories of September 11. "It's the 'concerned citizens,' the activist boards who don't want outdoor cafes, that are a menace to commerce."
Mr. Smith's comments echoed those of many after the initial round of blueprints made public in mid-July sparked a design war over what should be built. The series of six widely criticized sketches by design firm Beyer Blinder Belle drove at least one local editorial writer to score it as a "fiasco." A raucous public meeting with group-therapy overtones only exacerbated the debate.
"The key decisions should not be driven by the families," said Fred Siegel, an urban history professor who believes that transportation plans rebuilding subways, trains and ferries must have preference if the site is to be economically viable for the rest of the century.
In the wake of dissent from public and private interests, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) announced last week a casting call for designers and architects throughout the world.
Five architects will be hired to create a series of drawings for the site by the end of November. A final design will be selected in the first half of 2003.
Roland Betts, head of the planning task force for LMDC, said he seeks "excitement, creativity and energy." Others say tone down the emphasis on aesthetics and let the guiding principle be functionality toward re-creating the nation's financial center.
A Quinnipiac University poll in mid-July indicated that voters were split 41-41 over whether the "footprints" where the twin towers stood should be developed. More than 17 percent were undecided.
Looking at the entire ground zero site, 70 percent of New York City voters said plans should include a memorial to the victims, plus office and residential buildings, while 23 percent said the entire site should be turned into a memorial.
Gov. George E. Pataki, who is up for re-election in November, is on record saying there will be no building where the towers stood.
Urban analyst Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan institute, says the governor is caving in to the "memorialists" and trying to turn lower Manhattan into "a Disneyland of death."
Mr. Malanga said: "What we're doing here is wallowing in our victimization rather than saying 'We're going to build and include a memorial, but [the World Trade Center] will re-emerge as the pre-eminent business capital that it is.'"
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site of the World Trade Center, is intent on filling the expanse with a maximum of commercial space, a posture that puts it at odds with the LMDC.

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