Saturday, April 23, 2005

Looking backward, not forward, at WTC

From up close, it's a construction site. But step back a little: there's more going on than meets the eye at the ground zero. It's not just physical forces that are shaping the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Early ideas for transforming the site in ways that would promote social justice, the environment, and vibrant new civic initiatives, already compromised by economic realities, have taken another turn. The proposed performing arts center is not to be, reports Ada Louise Huxtable:

The final betrayal of the plan for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site--the news two weeks ago that the performing-arts center has been dropped from the $500 million fund-raising campaign for the memorial and museum--was consigned to an inner arts page of a Saturday edition of the newspaper of record, where weekend stories go to die. Picked up by an astute reporter, Robin Pogrebin, the latest development in the downward slide of the ideals and aspirations embraced for Ground Zero was buried in the hoopla of the announcement of the fund-raising committee.

The death of the dream has come slowly, in bits and pieces, not as a sudden cataclysmic event. It has not been a casualty of the more obvious debate over whether the replacement of the lost 10 million square feet of commercial space demanded by the developer is an economic necessity or the defilement of the land where so many died. This has been a subtler, more insidious sabotage, through the progressive downgrading and evisceration of the cultural components of Daniel Libeskind's competition-winning design.

. . .

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has just issued a detailed report on how carefully it has listened to the public in the disposition of its funds. Clearly, some voices have been louder than others. The most vocal and best represented are those calling for restricting the fund raising to "9/11 related" elements of the plan. That is an abdication of the need to temper an unrelenting drive for commercial maximization of the site with something more than an aching emptiness at its heart. The slurry wall is now a relic, its relevance as history and metaphor replaced by an enormous competition-winning void within the Twin Towers' footprints, a memorial so vast few accurately understand its size.

Because the entitlements of loss and grief are the third rail of the rebuilding effort, no one has challenged the subversion of the aims and intent of the plan. The parts that speak of hope and the future have not been able to survive the pressure for a singleminded commitment to the tragic past.

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