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Battle for Ground Zero

Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Massachusetts
August 20, 2013

Some claim that design is a rational process, the result of a thoughtful, logical, and ultimately artful response to the programmatic requirements of the project at hand. But what is the program? Who decides?

Elizabeth Greenspan, an urban anthropologist at Harvard, explores these questions in the recently published Battle for Ground Zero: Inside the Political Struggle to Rebuild the World Trade Center and, in a reading from her book, she highlighted the complex challenges of reconstruction. Within the context of visuals shown to illustrate location, street patterns, and images of graffiti and objects left by mourners and visitors worldwide, Greenspan outlined the conflicts and dynamics of the public/private partnership that would inform and frustrate the rebuilding of the site over 11 years.

Given the iconic nature of the towers, emotional and political struggles were shown in stark relief in the spring of 2002 during a public “town hall” dialogue at Pace University, organized by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to review six masterplans for Ground Zero. Four thousand attendees voted to reject all six plans, which had been commissioned by the Port Authority and LMDC, calling for images of something monumental with less commercial space, something better than politics and commerce. Years of conflict would ensue among the site’s owners, major leaseholder, architects, the governor, and two mayors.

The question-and-answer period reflected the audience’s diversity of interest. What was achieved by re-establishing some original streets? What was significant about 1,776 feet for the height of Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower? Prior to 9/11, how did Silverstein Properties become the leaseholder of the World Trade Center? Greenspan’s responses, just like her book, represented a thorough history and critique of the balance between public and private ownership and the political and emotional conflict therein. Perhaps art is politics.