Five Years of the Wrong Plan for the Wrong Reasons is Long Enough

Crain's NY (New York's Hometown Architect Faces a New World Order – 7-31-06) recently paid tribute to Freedom Tower architect David Childs – no doubt well-deserved in many respects – but, when the history of the World Trade Center is written by future social historians, rather than architectural purists, they are sure to arrive at some dramatically different conclusions.

In 2002, Mr. Childs said that the Twin Towers were symbols of "the midcentury arrogance of architects" and an "act of vandalism" (Time Magazine 5-27-02). The irony of his remark may escape those who have done their best to remove any trace of what we loved and lost from the future development, but it would make most New Yorkers wince. And, his drive to replace the pre-WTC street grid and "those river-to-river views you expect in New York" may be shared by many urban planners, but very few New Yorkers.

When the events of the past five years are examined from a distance of twenty or thirty, the efforts to erase the Twin Towers from their rightful place in New York's skyline will be seen as a policy of unparalleled arrogance – the destruction of Pennsylvania Station included. The architects, planners, and assorted "stakeholders," who have taken it upon themselves to impose something so unworthy on the rest of us are deaf, dumb, and blind to the wishes of most New Yorkers or the real stake we all have in refusing to allow terrorists to do our urban planning.

Mr. Childs sees his tower as "a simple, iconic building. A landmark to join the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building," but it would never be found in the same league. Neither would Larry Silverstein's pedestrian vision for the future World Trade Center, because they are out of alignment with the city's uncompromising spirit.

There is no need for an assortment of big-name architects to leave their mark on those sixteen acres. We know what the World Trade Center is supposed to look like. Ground Zero is not a pair of designer jeans or the appropriate place for egos on parade. And, those who are conscientiously objecting to the current agenda are not a fringe element, but mainstream Americans who instinctively understand that if this synthetic World Trade Center ever does get built, the Freedom Tower will stand as a funereal obelisk to New York's and America's decline.

Not long ago, Steve Cuozzo of the "New York Post" remarked that the one thing the original World Trade Center had going for it was that it "lent the lower Manhattan skyline a two-thumbs-up optimism no single structure can replicate." He got that right. One flashy shell could never take the place of those two fallen towers. And, all the proposed enhancements of form and function could just as easily be applied to two towers as to one.

The public is assured by those in the know that the new design "echoes" the Twin Towers and "reclaims" the skyline, but the only development that could ever echo the Twin Towers or reclaim the skyline is two symmetrical towers of at least equal stature. In an interesting window on the popular culture, Adam Sandler's time traveler in the movie "Click" finds twin Freedom Towers standing side-by-side in a future skyline. Since Hollywood is famous for having its finger on the people's pulse, the significance of the clip is telling – and very possibly prophetic.

Ironically, it is Mr. Childs' twin towers at Columbus Circle that will probably be the closest he comes to leaving an icon behind. Icons are always beloved by the people and the Freedom Tower never could be – not because of what it looks like – but because of what it stands for. If it were the most beautiful building in the world, it still would not belong at Ground Zero because it represents retreat and is not a faithful reflection on our character. It is as simple as that.

The only defiance the Freedom Tower could ever represent is the defiance of the people's government for the people's will. And, for most New Yorkers and millions around the world, it would never cease to be a painful reminder of what should be there and would be there if a coterie of special interests had not ratified their fate.

The much-maligned movement to rebuild the Twin Towers represents the tip of an iceberg that the Ground Zero power-brokers are steaming towards. With the many intractable problems blocking development, the public still has a good shot at forcing the issue into the spotlight that it has always deserved, but cynically been denied. And if the debate succeeds in capturing the public's attention, there is a very strong likelihood that their efforts would prevail – because people want their Towers back – and there is no good reason to do anything else.

It's not too late and we should all fervently hope that the Freedom Tower will never come to "someday represent New York" because that would mean that the city of WOW had become a sad SO WHAT.