Volume 16 • Issue 48 | APRIL 23-29, 2004


Preserving history, preventing delays at the W.T.C.

By Anthony Gardner

Some Downtown residents continue to assert that preservation of historic remnants at the World Trade Center site will lead to massive delays in the redevelopment; serve as a tribute to Al Qaeda destruction; and that a small group of Sept. 11 families are crippling the economic rebirth of Lower Manhattan. What these residents fail to do is provide factual information to support their claims.

These false assertions come from some of the same individuals who fought to place a bus depot on top of the ruins of the Twin Tower footprints, where the largest concentration of remains were found, and in complete defiance of the basic principles of anti-terrorist building design and construction. The individuals who suggested this were not only insensitive to the dead of Sept. 11, their suggestion was a gross violation of public safety. It is apparent from their position they do not care about the historic remnants at the World Trade Center, and they do not acknowledge their historic value.

Indeed, it was the Coalition of 9/11 Families, as well as other concerned local residents, who first advocated for preservation of the W.T.C. physical remains. We understood the historic power of this modern day battlefield and believed the footprints of the towers deserved a place in American history similar to comparable sites such as Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg. As the historic preservation process continues, we have found common ground with many groups, including the Historic Districts Council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT).

Each anniversary, Sept. 11 families communicated how emotionally important the bedrock footprints are when they journey down and stand where the majority of those lost were recovered. The footprints also represent the space where the towers once stood. Last fall, we learned that the physical remains of the box beam columns define the perimeters of the tower footprints – a true historic relic.

The memorial design selected by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, “Reflecting Absence” by Michael Arad, has met with considerable criticism because it is void of historic authenticity. Mr. Arad’s voids of water are symbolic representations of where the towers stood and must not be confused with the actual footprints of the towers outlined by box beam column remnants on bedrock. His sterile plaza is void of any of the W.T.C. historic artifacts. The artifacts housed at Kennedy Airport are priceless historic ruins, not eyesores, and they should not be hidden underground because they don’t mesh with the neighborhood.

Despite repeated appeals from the Coalition of 9/11 Families expressing the significance of the World Trade Center sites’ historic resources, both on and off site, Michael Arad’s design, with its random listing of names, still does nothing to speak to the individual lives lost and remains void of any sense of history at grade level. As a result it will fail to engage the public and will not provide a profound connection to Sept. 11.

It’s been evident from the beginning of the Section 106 historic preservation compliance process that the L.M.D.C. and community leaders had predetermined a “no adverse effect finding” to expedite the redevelopment. The L.M.D.C. suggested “the significance of the transcending events of Sept. 11 and the aftermath clearly does not depend on the presence of the original, or even the damaged, buildings and structures that portrayed the horror of that day.” After media scrutiny and pressure from Sept. 11 families and historic preservation groups, the L.M.D.C. determined that the site is eligible to be registered on the national registry of historic places and the W.T.C. historic on-site artifacts (box beam columns that define the footprints, remnants of W.T.C. 6, and the slurry wall as well as off-site remnants) contribute to the site’s historic significance.

In their comments to L.M.D.C. on its proposed finding of “No Adverse Effect” March 15, 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation argued this L.M.D.C. determination “appears to be driven by an assumption that the Section 106 review (and thus the redevelopment process as a whole) will move more swiftly with such a finding…. We believe this misguided original finding of No Adverse Effect would have precisely the opposite effect — of delaying the redevelopment by serving as bait for litigation, (with a likelihood of success on the merits).”

Most recently, L.M.D.C. has agreed to enter into a programmatic agreement to lessen the negative impacts of their project on the on-site historic resources. It is our view that this draft agreement is far too vague and must be refined if it is to be of any substantive value.

On April 8, L.M.D.C. announced the creation of a memorial center advisory board. This new advisory board will select artifacts for incorporation into the memorial center and develop curator themes and programs. We were surprised to see that David Stanke, co-president of BPC United, a Downtown residents’ group, was appointed to the memorial center advisory board. Stanke has voiced nothing but disdain and disregard for historic preservation efforts as evidenced most recently when his op-ed piece, “Don’t let historic preservation delay W.T.C. redevelopment” appeared on this page, April 9. We question why the L.M.D.C. would include someone on a committee charged with interpreting W.T.C. artifacts for the memorial center when that person clearly has questioned the value of historic artifacts at the site.

If misinformed individuals of the past were allowed to dispose of all evidence of the Nazi concentration camps because they were too disturbing or slowed down the redevelopment of Germany, the world would be denied an important historic reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. If misguided individuals succeed in hiding the evidence of Sept. 11, we will loose another historic reminder, not only of man’s inhumanity, but also his goodness and resiliency as evidenced by the many who came to help in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The W.T.C. physical remains do not communicate emptiness and they do not glorify Al Qaeda destruction. If that perception were true, the wreckage of the USS Arizona would be viewed as a tribute to the Japanese, and the remnants of the Nazi concentration camps in Europe would be seen as a tribute to Hitler. Our generation must be the steward of the priceless W.T.C. historic remnants. Preserving history will not preclude revitalization, it will enhance it.

Anthony Gardner is a member of the executive board of the Coalition of 9/11 Families. His brother, Harvey Joseph Gardner III, was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

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