Amy Florence Fischbach,
staff writer, discusses the future of the World Trade Center and the revitalization of Lower Manhattan with Beverly Willis, architect and co-chair of Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.DOT). Q. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. introduced six initial proposals in July. How did the New Yorkers and the civic groups respond to the renderings? A. With my background as an architect, I was fascinated by the fact that all the people, regardless of age or income group, recognized that these plans were all very bland and uninspiring. Q. Did the architecture firm have to incorporate certain elements in each of the six designs? A. The firm followed the economic program as outlined in the lease. They applied that to all six plans. This accounted for their similarity. The program contributed to making the plans very bland because in a sense, it was trying to jam too much on the site. They were trying to put everything back on the site that was there before and more. They added more office and retail space and were trying to include a memorial park, a museum and cultural facilities. Q. So they weren’t trying to take into account what happened there, but were instead going by the rulebook? A. Yes. There was no soul in the effort. It was just a rulebook application of a retail mall and almost rectangular high-rise buildings, which were all very tall, uniform and in every way—bland. The interesting thing about it was that the space that was allotted for a memorial wound up looking like it was a park for the office buildings. The financial people who would possibly work in those buildings were saying, “I don’t want to work in a building next to a graveyard.” It became apparent that there has to be a gradation between the commercial use of the site and the emotions evoked by the memorial because they are just two different things. Q. What about the plans to extend construction beyond the 16 acres and use more of lower Manhattan? A. We have been calling from day one for a masterplan for all of lower Manhattan. We feel that you cannot correctly evaluate a development on the World Trade Center site without looking at the surrounding area. Even when the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. began to finalize the plans, they realized that they had to go beyond the site, however, they did not go far enough. Q. How will the security of the WTC change from what they had before? A. There seems to be a consensus that no building is going to be taller than about 70 stories. Anything that rises higher than the other office buildings in the area will have a non-occupied tower. Q. There has been talk about a land swap between the WTC site and the land underneath the JFK and LaGuardia airports. How do you feel about the city gaining control of Ground Zero? A. The civic groups think it is a brilliant idea. It will enable the city to revitalize lower Manhattan and changes the focus to lower Manhattan as opposed to the World Trade Center site. Getting the Port Authority out of the World Trade Center site and into the airport site will certainly economically serve the best interest of the city of New York. Q. How has the New York economy and the construction market been affected since September 11? A. Things are a little slow. It would be nice to get construction underway, but it won’t be possible because you still have two years of construction of the PATH train station (a train that connects New York and New Jersey) and the subways. If we can get construction going in Lower Manhattan, we’ll see results right away. That’s why it’s important to try to swap the land. It would be a completely clean slate. Q. What is the current timeline for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center? A. I think now they’re now talking about 2003 for their final plan. From a professional standpoint, we feel that things are getting back to an orderly procedure. Q. What’s the mood like in New York as the anniversary approaches? A. It’s mixed. Many of the victims’ families have said they would prefer not to have an anniversary celebration because it just opens old wounds. Others think it is very appropriate. Q. Where do you see New York a year from now? A. If we can get the powers that be to start focusing on revitalizing lower Manhattan, I think we’ll be in a much healthier economic and social climate than we are now. If the focus continues to be on the World Trade Center site and nothing is being done to revitalize lower Manhattan, then I think one year from now, we’ll be exactly where we are today.