Volume 19 Issue 47 | April 6 - 12, 2007


Saving the stairway would preserve falsehood

It’s hard to figure out which is more foolish about the latest plan for the “Survivors’ Stairway” – the possibility of delaying a much-needed school in Lower Manhattan or an investment of at least a few million dollars to preserve this World Trade Center remnant in the first place.

Money would not be an issue if these stairs actually represented what many people think they do. Imagine if millions of visitors to the new World Trade Center saw a stairway that thousands of people used to escape the World Trade Center, minutes before the falling debris from the Twin Towers pounded the stairs into a semblance of what they were on Sept. 10, 2001. It would undoubtedly be a moving, powerful sight. But it wouldn’t be true.

Many people did escape the W.T.C. complex by running down these stairs to Vesey St., but the stairway was not damaged much on 9/11. Most of the current damage came as a result of the removal of about two million tons of debris from the site. There is no way this massive, 175-ton stairway could be preserved intact in a public place such as the W.T.C. memorial plaza without delivering a false message. The millions of tourists who visit will speak countless languages. Thousands of workers and residents would get a daily glimpse of these stairs as they hurry about their day. They are not going to stop by the steps to read a history lesson.

The W.T.C. Memorial Foundation’s Alice Greenwald has pointed out this problem of delivering a false message. Greenwald, who will be director of the memorial museum, thinks pieces of the stairs should be included in the museum. We agree. In the context of an exhibit, the stairs do convey an important message about the thousands who escaped, the hundreds who died helping make that happen, and the extraordinary efforts of workers who were able to clear the debris without any further loss of life.

Preserving the truth should be enough of a reason not to preserve the stairway, but then there’s the fact the state wants to move it “temporarily” to Site 2B in Battery Park City, where a school is needed.

It will cost at least $2 million to move the stairs intact from the W.T.C. to Site 2B and then back to the W.T.C. at some point in the future, if the preliminary Empire State Development Corp. estimate is accurate. We are glad to hear that E.S.D.C. says a Site 2B school is the “top priority” for the site, but that can’t be squared with the fact that E.S.D.C. is talking about dumping a massive stairway on the Battery Pl. location and it has no clue how long it will keep it there. We find it hard to believe Gov. Eliot Spitzer would allow E.S.D.C. to make this decision if he knew all of the facts.

W.T.C. developer Larry Silverstein has agreed to incorporate a piece of the stairs in the steps of Tower 2. The preservation plans of the foundation and Silverstein are sensible and have been endorsed by Community Board 1.

The E.S.D.C. idea would embellish a true story that needs no exaggeration, waste money and would threaten Downtown’s growth. Instead, let’s save some stairs and build a school.

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