It’s Always Something

Hardly a week goes by that there isn’t at least one new reminder of what a mistake is being made at the World Trade Center. The latest is the discovery that in the most often photographed view of the Trade Center — from the east — the Frank Gehry residential tower on Spruce Street, though hundreds of feet shorter, will look at least as tall as the roof of the Freedom Tower. Clearly, that would not be the case with 120-storey Twins, which would put everything in perspective.

As for the tower that Larry Silverstein pointed out last June will always be known as the Freedom Tower, we think that as long as the spire is destined for 1,776 feet, the least we the people can do is recognize its enormous significance by calling it by its true name. After all, reaching that patriotic pinnacle is the reason for dispensing with the world’s most fantastic roof deck — so that guide books can make the phony boast that it is the tallest building in North America.

The fact that the roof height is shorter than the Sears/Willis Tower in Chicago and before long will be surpassed in the skyline by a tower planned in Midtown known as “432 Park Avenue” makes the “tallest” claim increasingly embarrassing. New York never had to color the truth with gimmicks before.

Too Short?

Choosing questionable symbolism over the heady experience that no indoor deck could possibly match is the mark of an out-of-touch agency — as was the decision to scrap plans for a world-class restaurant that would far outperform the $10 million annually that the PA hopes to take in by siphoning off the Empire State Building’s broadcasters.

This is just more-of-the-same mismanagement by an agency that had to pay $2 million to auditors to tell them to cut salaries and refocus. And even then, they still haven’t conceded what we at the Twin Towers Alliance have been telling them in person at every Board Meeting for the past year and a half: They will continue to be compromised and unworthy of the public’s trust until they throw open the door to their “executive sessions” and let the sun shine in.

At last Thursday’s board meeting, Port Authority Chairman David Samson, Executive Director Pat Foye, and Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni announced to the press that the PA had instituted a policy which henceforth would make the agency more transparent. The sweeping changes to the agency’s Freedom of Information policy are very welcome and long overdue.

The agency is notorious for its lack of cooperation and many are now publicly complaining of abuse. But, while we are not the only applicants whose “FOIA” requests have been routinely mishandled, we are the only ones who have spoken at almost every Board of Commissioners meeting since September of 2010, decrying the lack of transparency and explaining how Commissioners robbed the public of the World Trade Center most of us wanted by deliberating all their business behind closed doors.

And, we are the only ones who were granted permission to be part of the lawsuit now pending against the Port Authority in District Court, by submitting a brief that characterized the Port Authority’s culture of secrecy as the root of all its problems.

That hasn’t changed, because the Freedom of Information reforms are important, but amount to a post mortem. They will help us establish what went wrong, after the fact, but the tremendous waste of public funds and public trust happened behind closed doors. They may be cracking the door, but they are still stuck in defensive mode, insisting that they are protecting the public interest in closed sessions, when the opposite is clearly the case.

The current mess isn’t the inevitable result of bad luck and bad markets, as they continue to insist, but bad choices and bad policies that never would have been effected if the Board’s deliberations had been public. And their high-priced auditors are not telling them what we are giving them for free.| “Is One World Trade Center Going To Be Too Short?| “432 Park Avenue Will Reach 1,397 Feet, Taller Even Than the World Trade Center

The Wall Street Journal | “One World Trade Center Hits 100 Stories, Helped by Funny Math | “Port Authority opening its books in move toward transparency

2012-03-26T12:22:58+00:00 March 26th, 2012|Vol. One, No. 4 —|

Spring Is Here

There is something thrilling, no matter how many times we have seen it before, when a landscape that looks dead starts coming to life. The picture above is a study in the dichotomy of early spring — the brilliant buds and the leafless tree. We recognize the same promising signs in the long struggle for a worthy World Trade Center, and will not be surprised when it buds and blossoms.

Spring has sprung...

One of those signs is that the lack of good sense behind the current project becomes clearer all the time. As the analyis by Nicole Gelinas in the NY Torch makes clear, the Freedom Tower may be costing as much as twice what it’s worth. And as hard as diehard boosters, such as Steve Cuozzo at the NY Post try, they can’t deny the shocking lack of interest in the building that the public took off Mr. Silverstein’s hands.

Now that the Port Authority is opening its books to auditors, it is a good time to audit all of the bewildering deals that seem to be a bonanza for a man who has none of his own money invested in the Trade Center site. Now that he is pulling $65 million out of 7 World Trade Center, how much of it is he reinvesting into the site? | “World Trade Center figures for thought

New York Post | “Chadbourne & Parke WTC deal is ‘dead’ | “Silverstein to Refinance $577M in Bonds at 7 WTC

The | “Silverstein refinances 7 WTC, takes out $65M in cash| “9/11 ‘Survivor Tree’ blossoms at start of spring–AP | “NYC has solar, wind power plans for old dump site

2012-03-19T12:19:30+00:00 March 19th, 2012|Vol. One, No. 3 —|

What The Hey?

St. Patrick Expelling the Snakes

The Twin Towers Alliance website was launched on March 17, 2006, in observance of New York’s ecumenical patron saint. We were hoping that the power St. Patrick used to chase every last snake from Ireland might rub off at the WTC site, where forked tongues and serpentine logic were undermining a true recovery. But we did not rely on divine intervention to straighten it all out. We’ve spent years asking “what the heck is going on?” — and it makes no more sense today than it did at the beginning.

Twin towers have been popping up around the world since 9/11 — in Hong Kong, China, Riyadh, Seoul… while here in New York, we build them everywhere but where they belong. David Childs – architect on the Freedom Tower — designed the stunning Time Warner twins, while Larry Silverstein – the man who failed to live up to his contract to rebuild the Twin Towers – put up Silver Towers, his fraternal twins, in Midtown. But what takes the cake are the Hermitage twins being planned on the banks of the Seine, in view of the Eiffel Tower, by Norman Foster – the British architect who designed the phantom 2 World Trade Center tower.

Officials can boast that the Freedom Tower is a fitting replacement, but only someone who never stood on the Twins’ rooftop deck would believe it — or fail to wonder how we could get it so wrong. The closest the public ever got to a reason for not rebuilding the world-famous towers came in 2006, when the head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation at the time, Stefan Pryor, was asked about new Twin Towers at a public forum by an Israeli-American supporter, Tal Barzilai.

After all, most of us thought it was a “no-brainer.” As Mayor Koch pointed out, we had the plans. And once Kenneth Gardner and Herbert Belton unveiled their re-engineered “Twin Towers II” we had a new and improved plan that won strong support of the public, 9/11 families, and industry experts. So what was the revelation Mr. Pryor offered for why officials adopted a different plan? He actually said that it was because restoring the pre-WTC street grid was “an imperative.”

In other words, even though the chance of another attack from the air was remote then and is remote now, and the greatest threat to the new Trade Center would be the localized damage of a truck-bombing, officials and planners were dead-set on scrapping the WTC’s “superblock.” It was clear from the start that the superblock presented a virtual moat of protection and that rebuilding above grade would have made truck-bomb attacks – and the “lockdown” now being protested – a non-issue. So why is everyone so upset by the not-so-unintended consequences of bowing to the wishes of a vocal and well-connected few?

When it sinks in that we could have restored the skyline in fact (instead of fiction), even leaving the top half empty, while we turned the lights on every night, and still saved billions of dollars, there will be a lot of splaining to do. There are towers all over the city, the country, and the world that are soft targets for terrorists, but that does not stop people from living and working in them. The Gehry tower near Wall Street is a great success and there are a number of others in New York in various stages of completion.

At least, we would have had the skyline back — and the upper floors would have been ready for the time when people wanted to go higher — for far less than the current plan has spent to provide merely half the space, with the rest being projected for 2019. And we know what those projections are worth, because we have been hearing them for years.

The U.S. has been accused of always fighting the last war – while our more nimble enemies find new ways to disrupt our lives and distort our focus. Now that we have turned our city and country inside out and upside down to escape a threat that is a fraction as likely as being killed in a traffic accident, perhaps we should listen to the E-trade baby. To borrow from his wisdom: “You realize the odds of being attacked by terrorists are the same as being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear in the same day?” Right?

We can’t make wise choices with half the facts. Officials want to make our choices for us — to protect us from ourselves. But when they make specious claims and the media parrots the claims — as if just saying something makes it so — we have a problem. In something that was presented as news but read like a press release, a Daily News reporter assured us: “Despite reversals, and a tab borne by bridge-and-tunnel tollpayers, the 2.6 million-square-foot colossus has become exactly what architect Daniel Libeskind envisioned in his 2003 master plan – America’s defiant answer to terrorism.”

The offensive quote was in conclusion to the Daily News piece below. The article is chock-full of opinions from the Port Authority’s elite, insisting that the Freedom Tower is “the eighth wonder of the world.” But the statement above was not in quotations – because it wasn’t a quote. It was merely the opinion of someone who felt free to inject his personal bias into his “report.”

The line between a report and an opinion has been blurred from the first — and we can see where that led. We hope that when media professionals recognize how they have been used to program the public they will recant and repent. Because, if we can’t bear to examine and admit our mistakes, how will we ever get rid of the snakes at Ground Zero?

Yes to the Hermitage Plaza Towers

New York Daily News | “Freedom Tower reclaims New York City’s iconic view from top…

Downtown Express | “NYPD presents massive W.T.C. security plan

Downtown Express Editorial | “Don’t put FiDi in a lockdown!

The Village Voice | “Port Authority Plans on Military-Grade Security for the World Trade Center Site

2012-03-12T10:55:12+00:00 March 12th, 2012|Vol. One, No. 2 —|

It Is What It Is…

There is a clash of values going on in Lower Manhattan that could have far-reaching consequences. The Twin Towers Alliance has spent years challenging the assumption that false economies and phony “facts” trump the popular will for the WTC. Officials’ apparent strategy from the beginning has been to do as they please, insist they had public support for policies that were never actually debated, and then refuse to answer questions or listen to reason merely because, in their opinion, “it’s too late.”

For some curious reason, officials seemed confident that the media would not interfere. What logical reason is there to explain all the information that was never delivered to the public — which meant the people could not react? The 9/11 documentaries that failed to mention the strong public support for building better-than-ever Twin Towers are just one glaring example.

In July of 2002, when New Yorkers were still reeling, a New York Post poll found that half of us wanted the Twin Towers rebuilt. The other half was splintered in what they wanted. But popular opinion, by a margin that elects the President of the United States, has been dismissed for ten years, while expediency trumped the democratic process and slick lies were all it took.

NY Post Cover 7-14-02

We don’t presume to know what motivated Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and their select circle. We are certainly willing to assume that they thought they were doing what was best. But short-circuiting democracy is never for the best. No one should get away with ruling by fiat when the people are willing and able to decide their civic matters openly.

By 2009, when an MSNBC online poll found that over 90% of Americans preferred the “Twin Towers II” plan to the “Freedom Tower” project, George Pataki was still insisting on national TV that 10 million people took part in the process that produced the Libeskind Master Plan. But why then has the Twin Towers Alliance been waiting since January, 2010, for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to answer our Freedom of Information request with a shred of evidence to back up that claim?

A related example of official hubris is the recent disclosure that the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware disposed of body parts of some victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks by burning them and dumping the ashes in a landfill. The Congressional hearing into the treatment of unidentified remains that has been called for by 9/11 families would be a wake-up call for many Americans. But why has it taken so long?

As a recent op-ed in USA Today by a woman who lost her mother on 9/11 pointed out: “For many of us, this is not new news. Sadly, New York City has done the same… The difference between what happened at Dover and in New York is the Pentagon agrees dumping human remains in a landfill is wrong… In New York, when outraged families asked for their loved ones’ remains to be properly treated, the city went to court to fight to keep the remains in a landfill.”

The decision to abandon the particles of those killed on 9/11 to a bubbling landfill instead of going to the expense of moving them elsewhere on Staten Island will never be acceptable. And planting flowers in topsoil will never lessen the offense. If the public had been consulted, it is likely that most would have objected to the abandonment of the 9/11 victims that were too small to recover. That didn’t make them garbage.

The clean-up of the site cost the city over $660 million. But the workers who valiantly cleared away the destruction months ahead of the projected schedule saved millions off what was budgeted — which certainly would have covered relocating the tons of debris to a respectable place elsewhere. Why would a city government that acts in the name of the people choose over and over to spend millions in court fighting its own citizens, when they appealed to common decency?

And as if that were not bad enough, the same scenario is being inflicted on 9/11 families again. The effective confiscation of the unidentfied remains by locating them in a crypt within the museum, as a “programmatic element”, is highly offensive to many of the victims’ families. And again, they were forced into court because the Bloomberg administration refused to release the contact information for all of the other families, so that they could be polled as to their wishes.

The city objected on privacy grounds, but even when the victims’ families suggested that officials poll all the families directly regarding the final resting place of the remains, they still refused. But certainly, just because remains are unidentified doesn’t mean they belong to a museum or the government. They still belong as a whole to the victims’ families and no one else. That is indisputable. Therefore, the only possible resolution would be to determine what most of the families prefer.

Why isn’t that obvious to officials? Because they want what they want and there is a clear pattern of officials saying or doing whatever advances their agenda — not the public’s. Everything that has gone wrong at the site since the attacks of September 11th could have been avoided if the people had been consulted and the matters debated. The names that are engraved around the memorial footprints are a good example. They are there in spite of the Memorial’s designer — not because of him.

Otherwise, those names would be seven stories below ground — because all the efforts of 9/11 families members to to have a dialogue with officals over their concerns were rebuffed. The ones we have to thank instead for the powerful engraved tribute are the victims’ families and supporters who held a frigid overnight vigil outside the firehouse across from the site and “slept” on the sidewalk for three wintry weeks in 2006, until officials relented and agreed to bring the names above ground.

Everything of value does not have a price tag. The April Atlantic Monthly — out this week — includes an article that asks “What Isn’t For Sale?” When expediency offends the public’s sense of decency, it costs too much. Even worse is the mounting pwer struggle between the people and their government. The pattern is unmistakable and when officials get away with one abuse they are empowered to get away with the next one.

“It is what it is” is not a verdict, reason, or excuse. And when used as a strategy to defeat the popular will, it is a crime.

The New York Times | “9/11 Victims’ Remains Disposed Of in Landfill | “9/11 families call for congressional hearing on treatment of remains

USA Today | “Column: Is this any way to treat 9/11 remains?

The Atlantic Monthly | “What Isn’t For Sale?

2012-03-05T10:50:40+00:00 March 5th, 2012|Vol. One, No. 1 —|