May 18, 2004

World Trade Sellouts

by Nicole Gelinas

The Republican National Convention hits New York in August - a tribute to the city that stood tall in the wake of 9/11. The problem: When it comes to rebuilding Downtown, New York is close to accepting defeat.

Osama bin Laden gave the order to destroy the World Trade Center - but Gov. Pataki & Co. are paying for the funeral. New York's leaders refuse to heal our city's mutilated skyline.

In Washington, the horror of 9/11 was met with resolve: The feds rebuilt the Pentagon within a year.

In New York, horror was met by bureaucratic flaccidity.

Two years have passed since workers cleared the rubble from the World Trade Center site. But Pataki squandered months holding architectural beauty pageants while the crater in the middle of Lower Manhattan sank into the permanent landscape.

What's Pataki's legacy to be, after all that wasted time?

The governor has chosen architect Daniel Libeskind to erect a "Freedom" Tower that will be a half-hollowed monument to cowardice.

The top floors of the Freedom Tower are designed for bin Laden. They'll be empty. The tower is to be built with just 70 occupied stories - 40 floors shy of each of the destroyed Twin Towers.

Pataki wants to break ground on the Freedom Tower on the Fourth of July - but all the fireworks in the world won't mask the fact that the Freedom Tower is no World Trade Center.

It is shocking - almost inconceivable - that we haven't snatched back from our enemies what belongs to us. Americans always understood the Twin Towers. They were us: stark capitalism, power and beauty without explanation or apology.

It's not too late to stand down fecklessness at Ground Zero.

Herbert Belton, an architect who worked on the original World Trade Center, has designed new, 112-story Twin Towers for Lower Manhattan. Belton's partner, structural engineer Ken Gardner, has created an exquisite 5-foot model of the proposed towers and memorial plaza.

Their challenge was to fit Downtown's tragic new history into the proud heritage of the World Trade Center. They've preserved the form and style of pre-9/11 Downtown while paying homage to what happened on that hallowed ground.

Belton and Gardner would set each of their Twin Towers on the acre opposite its fallen predecessor. The footprints of the old WTC buildings would thus serve as testaments to 9/11's dead.

The footprints would be framed by the skin of the fallen towers that survived on that morning. A glass floor over each footprint would allow visitors to peer down to bedrock.

Belton and Gardner's memorial plaza includes an elegant building to inter the unidentified remains of those killed. In the sky, the top floor of each of the new Twin Towers would serve as a separate memorial to the police officers and firefighters who lost their lives to rescue so many on that day.

The new WTC would include post-9/11 safety features: Each tower would be protected by a double exterior skin, and would feature six well-fireproofed stairwells.

In the shadow of Gardner's 5-foot model of what could be, Pataki's ground breaking on July 4 will be an occasion to mark not triumph, but more tragedy.

To watch the steel structures of new Twin Towers pierce New York's skyline floor-by-floor - after all New York has been through - would be to experience one of the greatest moments in modern history. But Pataki and his Freedom Tower would rob New York - and America - of that moment.

This generation will be judged on its response to 9/11. "Rebuilding the World Trade Center shows that we will not be moved by these crazy, mad people," Gardner said.

The construction of the Freedom Tower won't do that - instead, it would desecrate our own dignity.

Worse, the Freedom Tower's abject mediocrity would lull New Yorkers - and Americans - into a false sense of complacency in the face of terror and tyranny. Erecting an empty tower of appeasement won't make us safe.

Pataki owes it to New York to take a look at the Belton- Gardner plan - or our skyline will be forever marred by a 1,776-foot gravestone that marks the death of New York's spirit.