- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

NEW YORK If there is one thing everyone has in this town it's an opinion a perception made abundantly clear in two public hearings on the latest architectural plans to rebuild the World Trade Center.
The open five-hour sessions held Monday and Tuesday evenings in all five boroughs and on Long Island addressed nine designs made public last month. But consensus has remained elusive.
Officials of the sponsoring agencies, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said they wanted only to listen to the concerns of citizens. They sat quietly as dozens of speakers from a wide range of special-interest groups spoke out about what should replace the buildings Middle Eastern terrorists destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks. In the end, just about everything said had been heard before in some other forum, but in this instance the complaints were broadcast live on local television.
"Facilitators" led the speakers to the roving microphones at Pace University in Manhattan. New Visions, an architectural organization comprising 21 architect and engineering groups, led off the speakers with a blunt indictment of the planning, saying "the schemes represent a quandary. They are hampered without a realistic program and development strategy for the site and caused by a lack of clearly directed leadership."
Other complaints came from other interests: the need for low-income housing for area residents; the desire of the victims' families to erect a substantial memorial; the demands of the business community for abundant office space; and the wish of some for aesthetic architectural plans that will beautify downtown Manhattan.
Many of the comments at the two meetings were reminiscent of the reaction on July 16 when the first batch of architectural designs was unveiled. They were later thrown out after adverse public reaction.
Sharon Shapiro, who spoke from a wheelchair and represented a group of the disabled, said "universal access" for the handicapped must be included in the designs. Another activist group suggested the creation of a "world tolerance center."
Even bird-watchers got podium time. E.J. McAdams of the New York City Audubon Society cautioned the planners to consider "green architecture" and the thousands of birds that hit skyscrapers every year. Glass and insufficient night lighting are the main causes, he said, calling for "bird-friendly" structures.
The current "post-modern" submissions by seven international firms include plans for the world's tallest buildings, reflecting pools, meditation walks, gardens and commercial and retail space. One plan may serve as the basis for a final design, but it will also be subject to the developer's own ideas and the city's economic climate.
Attendance at most of the locations on Monday and Tuesday nights was scant. Sixty or so people was a common turnout.
Holding a picture of his son-in-law who died on the 92nd floor of the north tower, one man said that the architects "made beautiful buildings and did hard work," but they should have designed a memorial for the September 11 victims first.
Since the attacks, critics have characterized the planners as caught between competing interests: Those who want to emphasize the importance of rebuilding an economic center, represented by the Port Authority (the owner of the 16-acre site), and those who concentrate on remembering the victims.
But Anastasia Song, a Port Authority commissioner and chairman of its finance committee, believes that division has been exaggerated. "This community is organic and will evolve according to its own laws and principles over a decade or more," she said.
She thinks a memorial will be completed sometime fairly soon. "People need somewhere to grieve. We can't let this site lay fallow."
At least one speaker openly called the planning process a disgrace. "The future of downtown has been hijacked by mawkish sentimentality, real estate industry schemers and anti-business special-interest activists," said a Manhattan pathologist. "If you succeed in making the World Trade Center site a blank site for urban renewal agendas, you forever acknowledge [Osama] bin Laden as your urban planner."
The LMDC and the Port Authority have said they will decide on an overall conceptual land-use plan by Jan. 31.

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