In a few days, after more than a dozen years of wrangling and rebuilding efforts, the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center will finally open. The great new WTC tower is now up, if not ready for occupancy. Perhaps this is a good occasion to consider a major opportunity for the Trade Center’s use as a true contribution toward a world without such terrorism.
Starting just months after the terrorist destruction of the WTCs Twin Towers, millions of words and dollars have been spent on WTC concepts and proposals, but hardly a word on uses of the rebuilding to deal with reducing terrorism, at least at the scale of the 9/11 disaster that was witnessed by the world.
Surely some further investigation is warranted of the striking concept developed during the related Municipal Art Society project, which included hundreds of citizen workshops, and thousands of concerned citizens. The Municipal Art Society has been a major New York citizen agency for public policy and development. Among other projects it was a major force to save Grand Central Station after the debacle of the Penn Station demolition. These workshops, all over the city and region, considered the rebuilding, not merely the design but all aspects of this enormous and inevitably internationally significant project.
Redevelopment proposals had been plagued by political posturing and preoccupation with personal economic or emotional interests, all of which delayed and denied realistic national interests, even missing internationally significant decision-making that could reduce, not increase, the potential for terrorism in the years ahead.
Former Gov. George Pataki, as well as Larry Silverstein, the beneficiary of billions of insurance dollars, throughout the process seemed to contribute more problems than solutions. Few people seem to realize that the original concept of the trade center was commercially unrealistic. For its first 20 years, it could not be fully occupied, considerable floor space was given to artists, just to fill the buildings. And it never functioned as a world trade center.
Some of those involved pointed out that future occupancy prospects could also be bleak, particularly since the Port Authority, owner of the site, has not planned to rent space there for itself. In fact the Port Authority role in the original WTC project was seen by some as an inappropriate venture in real estate not directly related to its port and transportation mission. Other government employees may be forced to work there, but they cannot be expected to occupy even half of the tower.
Some wag suggests that perhaps one of our largest corporations might use the major tower as their headquarters: Target could put its logo at the top, 1,776 feet high. Another suggested safety might be solved by building the tower 1,776 feet down from Ground Zero. Some victims’ families seemed to want a solid stone tower as a grave stone, perhaps 1,776 feet high.
Some of us want more, something more relevant to 9/11 and a better, safer future. In this way a significant portion, or perhaps a major portion of the new building or buildings might be used for anti-terrorism research and international peaceful program development.
If we are to have a 21st Century that is prosperous, just and safe for all, we must address the threats as well as the opportunities that an increasingly globalized world presents. A peaceful world requires the vitality of international collaboration across all three sectors of local and global society: government and business as well as civil society. The tragedy of 9/11 underscored the inadequacy of government and business sectors alone to resolve the critical problems facing all peoples that result in terrorism and other violence. It is imperative that support for a strong civil society that serves as a balance to governmental and business interests be recognized as crucial to our common future.
The further development of that third leg, the civil society sector of such a stable three legged stool for effective progress might include, among other related uses in the new World Trade Center, including a graduate school from a consortium of universities for terrorism prevention, international relations, conflict resolution, and peace studies; space for scores of related non-governmental organizations now scattered over the city; related foundation offices; with all related facilities, including various sized conference rooms and services for employees as well as national and international visitors and students.
The tower and its related buildings could then become an international icon for constructive visions and programs to reduce the likelihood of more of the terrorism that brought down the original trade center.
At the time the original construction of the World Trade Center was initiated, I headed the Long Range Planning unit of the official tri-state planning agency just several blocks north of the WTC site. After WTC was completed, the agency moved into the twin towers. I also recall a later occasion involving a pleasant lunch with Bear Sterns investment firm officials, negotiating a major bond issue for my client, a Connecticut city, in their executive dining room near the top of a WTC tower.
I lost touch with local developments when I left to manage comprehensive metropolitan development planning for the United Nations Development Program including Pakistan’s major city, Karachi, now with a population much larger than New York. And later I had a similar role in Boston for the New England Regional Commission. .
Back in New York I had meetings with Municipal Art Society officials to develop the concept of this new WTC function, perhaps as a Global Study Center, which might include some United Nations educational and research functions as well as a first-rate communications facility.
At the time, I chaired the Board of the Communications Coordination Committee for the UN, represented the Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility /NY to the United Nations, and was a key member of the Professionals Network for Social Responsibility
These groups met with others and developed a comprehensive description of seven major elements with various useful functional components in each. A later article may include such details.
One conclusion within the first year after 9/11 was that the time was not yet ripe for such challenging proposals. It was suggested that the more likely occasion for such major use plans might only be possible after the basic construction was done, perhaps a full decade after 9/11. That time has come.
Bob Bogen served as comprehensive long-range facilities planning director for the New York Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission; as planning director for the New England Regional Commission; as a major United Nations official in Pakistan; Board Chairman of the Communications Coordinating Committee for the United Nations; and Principal Representative of Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility to the United Nations.