When the Twin Towers fell, Elizabeth Greenspan was a 24-year-old graduate student in urban studies in New York City. She was interested in how cities rebuild after catastrophes, like Hiroshima and she began to chronicle Ground Zero while the ruins were still smouldering. Her new book, The Battle For Ground Zero, chronicles the years of struggle and conflict during which New Yorkers fought over what should replace the World Trade Center.
As in so many rebuilding battles, the fight was never just about architecture or transit hubs or public/private partnerships. The real conflict was over symbolism and ideology. Was the building supposed to be a triumphant rallying point in the “Global War on Terror” or a somber memorial to the deceased? The attacks on the WTC killed nearly 3000 people, and some of their remains still rest at Ground Zero. So, one of the major challenges in reconstruction was reconciling the need for a historical memorial to a terrorist attack in the middle of a commercial office complex that lives or dies by its ability to attract tenants.
The story is told in three acts. Act I: Visions and Visionaries (2001-2003) introduces us to the power players who sought to reshape downtown, Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani, Port Authority officials, uber-developer Larry Silverstein, and the high-powered architects vying for the commission. In Act II: Divisions and Delays (2003-2008), we are introduced to some 9/11 families, whose desire for what they considered to be a fitting memorial for their loved ones was often at odds with the goals of rebuilding a commercial office building. In Act III: Dealmakers (2008-2011), we learn about the construction of the Freedom Tower and the controversy over a plan to build an Islamic community center nearby.
The Battle for Ground Zero provides compassionate account of the various factions in this fight, and financial, professional, and emotional stakes driving the players. The book explores how a commercial real estate project can become a stand-in for questions about democracy, identity, history, and memory.
Let’s give Liz a warm Firedoglake welcome!
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