Volume 20, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 13 - 19, 2010
Pool politics and an anti-fun zone
BY Ro Sheffe
Too much has been written about “the mosque at Ground Zero,” and you’re probably tired of reading about it. I know I am. So I was surprised to find a strangely different opinion piece recently. A successful Connecticut businessman named Raymond wrote it. He titled it: “A Mosque Perhaps, but a Swimming Pool?”
That’s right. It was an “anti-pool” piece. Raymond’s column skirted all the divisive issues of ideology and religion and politics that have dominated national news coverage in recent months. It went right to the heart of what began as – and should have remained – a local, community issue.
In brief, Raymond thinks a mosque near the World Trade Center just might be acceptable, maybe, but building a swimming pool there is a really BAD idea.
I applaud Raymond’s courage for being the first to raise the alarm about this swimming pool, while others were distracted by a small Islamic prayer space on a side street, deadly foreign wars and a crippled global economy.
My concern is that 64,000 residents of Lower Manhattan — many of us survivors of the 9/11 attack Raymond so eloquently describes – very much need community facilities like these. We’ve worked hard for many years to obtain them, both before and after the attack.
However, until reading Raymond’s article, I had never realized how insulting and insensitive a swimming pool could be.
“[To] build a swimming pool,” Raymond wrote, “a theater, where one is meant to come play and frolic, to be entertained at the very site where thousands of Americans horrifically lost their lives smacks of gross insensitivity...”
Of course, by now everyone except Raymond knows that the pool won’t be built “at the very site.” And pretty much everyone in my neighborhood knows that local survivors of the attack don’t need to be lectured about sensitivity.
Still, Raymond thinks that, because many people died nearby, it would be inappropriate for anyone to “play and frolic,” or to have any fun at all near the World Trade Center site ever again. Therefore, I think Raymond should consider two suggestions to strengthen his argument.
First, Raymond didn’t specify a buffer zone around the site where entertainment would be insensitive. He should clarify the exact boundaries of this “fun-free zone,” to help urban planners avoid similar mistakes in the future.
For example, my home is much closer than the proposed swimming pool. I’d like to know if Raymond thinks playing chess or watching a baseball game in my living room is now inappropriate, nine years after I replaced all my blown-out windows, discarded all my furniture and cleaned up all the toxic dust after the attack.
• Second, to address similar problems elsewhere, I suggest that Raymond broaden his scope to call for the elimination of all affronts to the dignity and respect of slain victims, wherever they occur. For a start, he might consider these:
• Surfing should be banned in Hawaii to honor victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
• Sports stadiums, tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools should be closed in all states where native Americans were massacred by U.S. troops from 1800 through 1899.
• All London pubs should be closed within several blocks of the site of any WWII blitz bomb or V2 rocket impact.
• Oktoberfest should be banned in Dresden and Hamburg, Germany, forever.
• Cherry orchards, theaters, parks and playgrounds should be closed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
This is only a partial list, of course. Each is a logical extension of Raymond’s premise that no one should be entertained near a site where many people perished at the hands of others. I’m sure readers can think of other examples.
After these and other global affronts to dignity have been cleared up, I’ll be glad to recommend that my neighbors and colleagues reconsider our nearly unanimous approval of the community facilities so generously offered by a good neighbor whose congregation settled here 27 years ago.
Unlike Raymond, I’m primarily concerned about my own community. I just want a swimming pool on Park Place. Most of my neighbors do, too, because we’ve worked hard for nine years to rebuild this devastated neighborhood and we think we deserve it. But Raymond wrote from Connecticut to say he doesn’t want us to have one. And he’s not alone. Thousands of people all over America agree. Some of them recently traveled hundreds of miles just to tell us that we shouldn’t have one.
No matter which side of this pointless debate one takes, we all honor those who died on 9/11. I was lucky. I survived. I cannot understand why some people think it’s necessary to punish the survivors to honor the dead.
Here’s a helpful tip, for Raymond and other well-meaning advice-givers: People who live more than 50 miles away probably shouldn’t express opinions about what recreational facilities local survivors of the 9/11 attack are entitled to have, and where they should be built. It might be counterproductive.
For example, if Raymond thinks no one should be entertained near the WTC site, it may disturb him to learn that reading his opinion about our swimming pool has been a source of much laughter and entertainment for many of us who live inappropriately nearby.
Ro Sheffe is a member of Manhattan Community Board 1, and Chair of the Financial District Committee.