Yesterday, on a bitterly cold winter’s day in lower Manhattan, 9/11 family members, firefighters, and police officers assembled at the Ground Zero site to protest the design of the 9/11 Memorial. Since work is set to begin (in two weeks after many delays) on the memorial to those lost in the 9/11 attacks, this rally makes clear there is a great distance between the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the State of New York, and New York City, and those people who lost friends, co-workers, and loved ones in the attacks.
One of the most significant issues is the design of the $500 million memorial. The plan is for two sunken pools to be placed in the footprints of each tower with the names of those lost encircling them on interior walls. The idea of a below ground memorial (one not seen from street level) doesn’t seem right to many of the family members of the victims since the attacks and the loss of life occurred high above the granite pit that is now all that is left of the World Trade Center site.
Another glaring concern is the listing of the names themselves. Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steven Cassidy made it clear at the rally yesterday that firefighters, police officers, and civilians need to be listed separately. According to the current plan, approved by both Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all victims’ names will be listed together with only departmental symbols appearing next to the names of the lost first responders.
Some of the protestors also voiced concern over the safety of the site plan. The below ground design raises concerns that there may be difficulty escaping the memorial during a fire or another terrorist attack. While the LMDC has made claims that the memorial will be safe and able to accommodate the millions of expected visitors each year, that hasn’t done much to ease anyone’s mind.
The most obvious problem here is that there is still a glaring difference between what those in power want (governor, mayor, LMDC) and what those who lost friends and loved ones want for the memorial site. Never has the austere and uncaring attitude of the builders, city, and state been more clear than yesterday at Ground Zero. By basically ignoring the call for a more meaningful and respectful memorial to the 9/11 victims, it is obvious that the design is more suited to generating commerce and recreating the skyline and not to honoring the memory of those lost.
I still believe in building a memorial that will soar into the sky, one separate from the so-called Freedom Tower. When people go to Washington D.C., they are awed by the majestic sight of the Washington Monument as it rockets skyward, as well as other memorials that are above ground. This is what I perceive as the normal way to build a site to those lost; it is something to honor the memory of the person or persons and make the heart leap at its structural magnificence.
Why not have something similar to this at Ground Zero in the form of two towers, smaller than the originals, but looking exactly the same as those that fell? Why not have an eternal flame blazing above ground with the names of the victims displayed prominently in the sunshine and listed separately as the police officers and firefighters are requesting? Why not have something that is apparent and visible as one sails by the city on a ship, flies over it in a plane, or approaches it by car. The Statue of Liberty raises her torch above New York Harbor, and the Ground Zero Memorial should be able to be seen from Liberty Island and not buried underground like something someone is trying to hide.
If things continue on this planned path, it will not just be the friends and loved ones of the victims who are insulted and ignored: it will be the victims themselves who are disparaged and intolerably disrespected by the builders, the city, and the state. We should be better than this; I hope we are better than this; otherwise, all New Yorkers and Americans should hang their heads in shame.