April 7, 2005

Rebuild the Towers

by Nicole Gelinas

April 7, 2005 -- More New Yorkers are emerging from their 9/11 numbness to say: The Twin Towers should be rebuilt.

Six weeks after 9/11, I wrote on these pages: "The World Trade Center was perfect the way it was. To build anything that is not as good or better will always mean that the thousands who work around, and eventually within, the complex will always recall the original with longing. To fail would be the saddest memorial to all that was destroyed."

Since then, we've come close to failing the fallen, failing ourselves and failing our city.

The World Trade Center site has become Ground Zero for everything wrong with New York.

When Gotham was in need, Gov. Pataki responded by doing what Albany does best: He created yet another opaque, unaccountable public corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. His political appointees there picked a plan for Ground Zero that nobody wants.

Showboating architect Daniel Libeskind treated Ground Zero like his personal p.r. backdrop. His 1,776-foot piece of concept art would've erased Downtown's modern heritage, eternally marring the skyline. He's mostly out of the picture now - but David Childs, WTC leaseholder Larry Silverstein's architect, still can't make the Freedom Tower fit Downtown.

"We're in a vacuum with regards to" the proposed tower's top 400 feet, Silverstein recently told The New York Times. Bankers won't finance the tower's broadcast antenna because the engineering design for the top of the building is unproven.

But in the end, Libeskind may have unwittingly bought the city the time it needed to think rationally about Downtown's future: Since Ground Zero is still an empty pit, New York retains the option to rebuild our towers.

For two years, accomplished engineering/architectural team Ken Gardner and Herbert Belton have been doggedly perfecting their own vision of a restored World Trade Center. They want to build 115-story twin towers - with offices, apartments and a hotel to fit into the new, 24-hour Downtown. The towers would each feature six internal stairwells, not the old Twin Towers' four - and the stairs would be reinforced with superior fireproofing technology.

Each new tower would be set opposite one fallen tower's footprint - and a memorial built from the fragmented remains of each fallen tower would ensure that New York would memorialize the past without sacrificing Ground Zero's future. (See the plan at MakeNYNYagain.com .)

I'm afraid to hope that New York can prove it deserves its reputation for resilience. But finally, more people are speaking out. Last month, MSNBC reporter David Shuster wrote on his blog: "The question is how much damage does Gov. Pataki and the LMDC want to inflict upon themselves before they wake up to reality? Americans, and especially New Yorkers, want their beloved city back." Shuster did a poll on the MSNBC Web site: 80 percent of the 3,483 respondents voted to rebuild the Twin Towers.

In mid-March, New York Sun columnist John P. Avlon wrote, in an article titled "Bring Back the Twin Towers": "New York City may finally be ready to begin a dialogue that we were unable to face in the months after the attack. . . . perhaps it is time to ask whether the Twin Towers should be rebuilt and our proud skyline restored."

Two weeks ago, the New Criterion's James Panero wrote: "The question of whether the World Trade Center towers should be rebuilt is probably one more of us should have asked 31/2 years ago. . . . Libeskind's plans have been met with an unenthusiastic response because there was always only one true option for what to do with Ground Zero." Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock wrote recently that Pataki should abandon "the star-crossed, patently unloved Freedom Tower."

But to rebuild the towers, New Yorkers need a leader with guts.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - who loves the city so much - has stood by as business-as-usual state politics have festered at Ground Zero. He must renew the pledge he made to New Yorkers after 9/11: That New York will heal its broken skyline.

Developer Donald Trump has said he hates the Freedom Tower. "I was never a huge fan of the World Trade Center. . . . Then, [the towers] came down. Now, I see pictures and say, 'they were great.' . . . How could they replace [them] with this monstrosity of garbled nonsense?" Trump said in late 2003. But he has yet to put the weight of his new national fame behind rebuilding the towers.

Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer must probe the LMDC to find out how Libeskind's architectural embarrassment was chosen in the first place - just as Spitzer has investigated shenanigans at other unaccountable cesspools, public and private.

And finally: Here is the chance for Pataki himself to do the right thing. The governor's approval ratings are the lowest they've ever been. Citizens have forgotten the fine things Pataki did for New York during his first two terms in office.

Pataki can erase the futility of Albany's past three years. He can hold a press conference downtown to say: New York is scrapping the Freedom Tower.

Pataki can turn back the emerging legacy of defeatism and hopelessness downtown. He can tell New Yorkers we're rebuilding the Twin Towers in the space that's been reserved for them since 9/11.

E-mail: ngelinas@nypost.com