Thursday, May 25, 2006

WTC Good and Bad

The TPS well has been a bit dry of late. I chalk this up to a combination of work and play among our contributors. Well, time to kickstart things again, and I figured what better way to do so than discuss the good and the bad of the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.

It was only this past Tuesday that Seven World Trade, the last building to be destroyed in New York by the September 11th terrorist attack, officially reopened for business (with remarkably little fanfare, unfortunately). While much of Seven World Trade’s space has yet to be leased, and the few tenants that have signed on still have yet to commence their scheduled autumn move-ins, the structure’s opening is nonetheless a quiet victory for the City of New York and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), both of which played roles in ensuring a quick groundbreaking and construction timetable without skimping on quality or security.

The success with Seven World Trade, however, is juxtaposed against the disaster that is rapidly becoming the World Trade Center Memorial. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the organization that was put in charge of the design, development, and construction of the memorial project, has succeeded in turning what was intended to be a simple yet solemn memorial into a brutally expensive boondoggle, with ever-rising expenses placing the cost of the proposed final memorial in the vicinity of $1 billion late last week. Only recently has New York Governor George “Wet Towel” Pataki expressed frustration over the rising cost projections and indicated that he would not allow the memorial project to be converted into a make-work project for fundraisers, nor would he allow the goodwill of donors and taxpayers to be squandered in the name of pork-barrel bureaucracy.

The New York Sun sums up the recent furor expressed by many New Yorkers over the project’s bloat and bureaucracy:

The September 11 attacks represent the worst day in American history, and the nation has an obligation to remember those who died with an appropriate and dignified memorial. At some point in the planning process, though, "expensive" became a synonym for "appropriate" and dignity disappeared from the discussion.

When the world's attention returns to Lower Manhattan in just a few months to mark the five-year point since September 11, New York should have more to show than a series scaled-back plans and a memorial that puts size over substance. In contrast to the high-priced plans for the World Trade Center site, the recent World War II Memorial cost $182 million, the Oklahoma City National Memorial cost $29 million and Vietnam Veterans Memorial cost $7 million.
(This last point is probably the strongest. I would like to know when a dollar value became the sole criterion by which we judge a respectful memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for those of you who have not had a chance to see it in person, is quite a site, but not because it is some ultra-complicated structure honoring those who fought and died. It is striking because of its simplicity of design, which almost demands awe and respect.)

The World Trade Center site is clearly far from perfect, and sadly, it will be too many years before the entire complex, including the proposed Freedom Tower centerpiece and the newly designed transportation hub, is brought to completion. But at least the opening of Seven World Trade stands as visual proof of not only the resiliency of the American people in the face of steep adversity, but also of the triumph of simplicity over complexity. If only the bureaucrats, er, fundraisers in charge of building the memorial could have understood that from the beginning, we might already have a worthy memorial in place, without the need to break the bank.

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