Wednesday marked the first anniversary of Sept. 11.
As the world’s eyes focused on Ground Zero for memorial ceremonies, arguments are still raging on just what to do with the site.
What would be most appropriate? Which of the six plans for rebuilding will be used? How do we balance commemorating the dead with the need to return life to normal? Is it even possible? It isn’t.
The events of Sept. 11 shattered the world and those close to me.
I grew up in a Staten Island neighborhood that lost 36 residents.
They were firefighters, secretaries, police officers and clerks. One of them was even my neighbor.
I spent several months working at the World Trade Center at temp jobs, mostly in an insurance firm on the 104th floor of Tower Two.
Three of my coworkers never made it down the steps.
With the time I spent with them, I know they didn’t die so the WTC’s landlords could build faceless office buildings and a Sbarros on their graves.
Rebuilding Ground Zero has become a tricky proposition, with survivors, local businesses, residents, government officials and leaseholders all jockeying for the loudest voice on what will go there.
The leaseholders – Silverstein Properties, Westfield America and Marriott – have been vocal in their desire to reclaim the 11 million square feet of office space and the 600,000 square feet of retail space lost, which naturally distresses the survivors.
The survivors’ need for a memorial grates the sensibilities of area businesses and residents.
It is understandable that some don’t want their backyards to become a graveyard, but for better or worse, they are.
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City government are stuck with the unenviable task of refereeing between the feuding parties.
In a July press conference, the city and the Port Authority unveiled six plans for construction on the WTC site.
Each plan would rebuild the office and retail space and construct a memorial, ranging from small to grandiose.
One plan would build “a tall, free-standing tower as a dramatic addition to the Lower Manhattan skyline”, while another would build “a public pavilion on the footprint of the North Tower,” turning it into a plaza for workers on lunch break a la Love Park.
At its crassest, one plan offers to build six new office buildings on Ground Zero, with an elevated memorial garden above the West Side Highway. But ultimately all of the plans propose to build anonymous office towers and trivialize the deaths of thousands.
What leaseholders do not understand is that with the deaths of so many Ground Zero has become sacred ground. Erecting office buildings there would be akin to building a mall on the site of the Oklahoma City bombing or a McDonald’s on Wounded Knee.
Instead, let the government absorb the cost of repaying the leases.
Let the residents adjust to having the site become a permanent memorial.
Let the survivors have peace of mind.
Turning Ground Zero into another Liberty Place spits in the faces of the victims.
These people did nothing worse than go to their jobs and, thanks to a few madmen, lost their lives for it.
Let’s not allow more madmen, this time in suits and ties, to use those deaths in vain.
Let’s make them do the tasteful thing and make Ground Zero a memorial.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org