Ground Zero: If you build it, they won't come

When we started talking about what to rebuild at Ground Zero, there was a strong faction urging us to "build them back, taller" or some variant thereof. As many of you know, I started this blog when I was working down at Ground Zero for one of the recovery company. My feeling was that the twin towers footprint should be preserved as a simple memorial: an open grassy space with the outlines of the buildings laid in bricks or something similar. My feeling was that the only way to appreciate the magnitude of what happened was to be able to see, across an open space, just how big the buildings were. I also felt that we should have a public space where people could be--not work, not shop, but simply enjoy other people.

But there was another reason I was against building new buildings there; the twin towers never really worked. It took a massive financial boom to make them desirable locations, and even then, they weren't a great address. Tall buildings don't work that well--above about fifty stories, the elevators needed to transport the people start crowding out the usable office space. This is why the WTC had those ridiculous "sky lobbies" where you had to change elevators to get to the top floors. Needless to say, on 9/11 the sky lobbies turned into death traps.

Once you throw in the fact that whatever gets built there will probably exert a magnetic fascination upon Al Qaeda and their ideological brethren, you've got a building that could only be built by the government (as, indeed, was true of the originals--they were pet projects of Nelson Rockefeller). There's nothing noble or grand about building office buildings where nobody wants to put an office. And I don't feel that Gettysburg is somehow "giving in to the Confederacy" because people no longer farm there.

Exhibit A: Merrill Lynch has pulled out of negotiations to take space in Larry Silverstein's buildings. It seems to me that it's time to rethink the whole project of putting more office space there, and turn the area into a national monument. If you're worried about losing commercial space--though this is hardly a current issue for New York's beleaguered financial industry--there are green spaces and low rise in the surrounding area that could be bought with eminent domain and built up.