Imagine being handed this assignment: You must build 11 million feet of prime office space, but wrap it expertly around a world-class memorial on what many consider to be sacred ground - and in the process create an architectural masterpiece that is not only supremely functional but which is aesthetically pleasing to millions.
Yet, that's the monumental task set before New York officials responsible for planning the future of Ground Zero.
Not surprisingly, a diverse group of 5,000 New Yorkers last weekend found six redevelopment proposals for the World Trade Center site to be sorely lacking.
Some felt the designs were both uninspired and uninspiring. Some felt the emphasis should be more on the memorial and less on the office space.
Survivors of some of the 2,800 victims expressed outrage that two of the six proposals suggested building on top of the very ground their loved ones died on.
So, it's back to the drawing board as the hoped-for goal of narrowing the ideas down to three by September is now considered expendable.
That's just as well. Better to do this right than to do it right now. Yet the last week just goes to show how daunting the assignment is.
Besides all the above considerations, planners want to try to improve traffic flow in the area - flow made more complicated by the thousands of tourists flocking to the site. Thus, designs have included a transportation hub and the reopening of streets that had been closed when the World Trade Center towers were constructed in the 1960s and early '70s.
And while the initial intent was to try to replace all 11 million square feet of office space, that is being re-evaluated - partly due to pressure from victims' families to emphasize the memorial vs. the commercial.
But there is also the fact that since Sept. 11, another 12 million square feet of office space in beleaguered Lower Manhattan has become unoccupied.
The angst of the victims' families is understandable. They quite rightly feel that to build anything on the so-called footprints of the twin towers is to build on top of a mass grave. And, truth be known, while the area's rehabilitation is technically in the bailiwick of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority that owns the space, the rest of the country is watching.
It is critical to respect the memories of the victims and the indelible nature of the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, if a vibrant business and financial community does not return to Ground Zero, that fact would end up being a memorial to the terrorists.
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