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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Restoring Ground Zero

Air Date: Week of

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Architecture and planning critic Jane Holtz Kay says a new design for the World Trade Center site should include old principles of city planning, and input from the public.


CURWOOD: Even as workers dig through the grim remains of the World Trade Center, there's much discussion underway about restoring the site. The managers of the once soaring glass towers say they want to rebuild, with four commercial structures, each 50 stories tall. And there are many other ideas abounding. The New York-New Jersey Port Authority owns the site and it's getting ready to decide its future.

Commentator Jane Holtz Kay says now's the time for people to begin sharing their visions.

HOLTZ KAY: The World Trade Center was a model of the worst of its time. In an era of mega-structures wrapped with windy plazas, it was the skyscraper to end all skyscrapers. Its massive 16 acres of enclosed space and spread-out towers, each covering a single acre, shadowed the city. Its random form disrupted the gridded street pattern of lower Manhattan. Inside, the underground mall was dark, and filled with homogenous chain stores, its corridors jammed with train riders. Outside, widened roads and a perimeter devoid of shops or cafZs created a lifeless edge. There was no sense of place, no there there. We can do better on this prime location. Poised above a major rail system, the site could again become a nexus, a model mini village of 50,000. From the dark days of the national nightmare we could create a fresh model for the nation's comeback cities.

Cities are built door by door. Some of the densest cities-- Boston, Paris, and even much of New York-- are seven stories high. Forget the trophy towers. Bring back the light and life of lower buildings on criss-crossing blocks. Next, go for diversity. Big as they were, the towers held a fragment of the city's trade. Focusing on commerce here is not necessary for Manhattan's economic health. Bring in the commerce but also non-profits, residences, movie houses, restaurants, mixed uses for 24-hour city.

Finally, remembrance is fitting. Start with a green space as a memorial to the thousands lost. Add a tower fragment, mementos, park benches, and streetlights. In an asphalt jungle visitors and city dwellers could gain relief from the tragic past. Mere blocks from the water, today's Ground Zero could become tomorrow's civic plateau--financially, psychologically, and socially sound. Out of the ashes of the glass and concrete wasteland this phoenix could show the world the power of a classic way of city making.

CURWOOD: Architecture and planning critic Jane Holtz-Kay is author of "Asphalt Nation."



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