Volume 18 • Issue 43 | March 10 - 16, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Relatives of people who died on 9/11 protested the plan to build an underground memorial Tuesday.

An underground memorial loses some of its upside

By Josh Rogers

Who told you to listen to us?

Relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks aren’t saying that to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation but that might be the question agency officials feel they are being asked. After a few years of trying to meet the requests of many family members to incorporate more of the World Trade Center site’s bedrock into the proposed memorial, some family members have now organized a campaign to postpone memorial construction until it is brought up to street level.

“What’s going on is counter to what was asked for,” said one family member who requested anonymity because he favors an underground memorial and did not want to publicly disagree with other family advocates.

The L.M.D.C. mailed letters to 5,000 relatives in June 2004 asking for their comments on the memorial, according to Stefan Pryor, president of the development corporation. He wrote a letter to members of the agency’s Family Advisory Council Monday saying his office received about 400 responses in 2004 and only one of those raised concerns about an underground memorial.

Two years ago, the Coalition for 9/11 Families issued a press release with a headline saying they were “encouraged by some revisions to ‘Reflecting Absence’” the title of the memorial’s design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. The group, one of the largest representing family members, called for further steps to preserve the Twin Towers’ footprints at bedrock but did not oppose an underground memorial.

Indeed many family members embraced the idea of a memorial below-street level put forward by W.T.C. master plan architect Daniel Libeskind at the end of 2002. When planning began for the memorial in 2003, some residents and business leaders were calling for raising it up to the street, a move opposed by many relatives. At a public hearing before the memorial jury in June 2003, several family members spoke out against a street-level design and only one said she would accept that, as long as family members had access to the site’s bedrock, which is part of the design

As it turned out, the selected design will be both underground and at street level. Arad’s idea of sunken reflecting pools at the tower’s footprints with an adjacent underground memorial museum remains, and there will also be a plaza of oak trees and a Snohetta-designed visitor center for the memorial. Family members succeeded in driving two cultural groups off the Snohetta-site last year, thus expanding the memorial area from about 4.5 to 8 acres.

A small group of family members gathered at the site Tuesday to call for an end to the underground memorial. A larger protest was staged a week ago and a vigil began Wednesday. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has joined the effort to halt construction until more of the site’s bedrock area is preserved.

“We want them to be remembered in the light of day,” said William Healey, whose niece was on the plane that hit Tower 1 and who said he had 11 friends who were killed in the towers.

“I don’t see why the same concept could rise up,” Maureen Santora, whose son was a firefighter who died on 9/11, said of the reflecting pools. She and several protestors Tuesday also said they think the underground memorial will be unsafe and not provide enough exit points in an emergency, a point disputed by the L.M.D.C.

Julie Menin, one of the jurors who selected the Arad design, said that before and during the selection process, she doesn’t recall a family member talking about the desire for a street-level memorial

“Our jury spent over two years going through over 5,000 submissions and I don’t ever remember hearing a comment that the memorial should be brought above ground,” said Menin, who is now the chairperson of Community Board 1. “I know many family members reacted positively to Michael Arad’s design and the idea of the sanctity of having it underground.”

Charles Wolf, whose wife died in the attack, said regardless of what the memorial turns out to be, there will necessarily be a level of dissatisfaction among just about all family members because of the contradictory desires. “Nobody is going to be exactly happy with it,” he said. “These are legitimate opinions – I hold one, they hold another. I like broccoli, they like carrots.”



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