Over 600 citizens came together on February 7, 2002, at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan to discuss their ideas about the vision and values that should drive the recovery and rebuilding of downtown New York City in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center. They included those affected most directly by the September 11th disaster –survivors, families of victims, and downtown Manhattan workers, residents and small business owners – and police officers, firefighters, students and parents as well as foundation and NGO leaders and elected and appointed government officials.
Entitled “Listening to the City”, the forum was co-sponsored by members of the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, a program of the Regional Plan Association, New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (Center for Excellence in New York City Governance, Institute of Civil Infrastructure Systems, and the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management), the School of Law, and the Furman Center For Real Estate and Urban Policy.
Using “electronic town meeting” tools – wireless laptop computers, polling keypads and trained facilitators from AmericaSpeaks – participants talked about the impact of September 11th; the economic, social and infrastructure principles for rebuilding; and the form and spirit of an appropriate memorial at the World Trade Center site.
Several common themes regarding downtown Manhattan’s future emerged from these discussions; key among them, that downtown Manhattan become a “vibrant, 24-hour mixed-use community” and that it be a “seamless transportation hub [with] all types of transportation (underground, surface, ferries) linking all parts of region.” The participants also said that any “memorial should be integrated into [the] total picture.”
Without focusing on an exact design or structure, the collective thinking about the essence of any memorial centered on a few themes: a sacred place to mourn; something reflecting the magnitude of what happened and its global impact; and honoring the heroism of the police, firefighters and emergency service workers as well as the “everyday people” that died.
“This was the start of a broad public conversation among the people of New York City and the region. It is their vision that will help to create our future,” said Arthur J. Fried, executive director of the NYU Center for Excellence in New York City Governance and a forum organizer.
“We’ve heard some good ideas from government and civic leaders, and from those in the architecture and real estate communities, about how to rebuild downtown,” adds Fried. “To those we are adding the voices of the residents, the workers, the survivors, the relatives, and the rescue workers heard here today. They have a profound understanding of the events of September 11th and of the needs of the city and will be most affected by how the city changes.”
Among the public officials who attended and delivered remarks were Charles Gargano, chairman and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation; Louis R. Tomson, executive director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; and Dan Doctoroff, the NYC deputy mayor for economic development. A final report from this forum, the first of several planned by the Civic Alliance, will be presented to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to help guide its planning and rebuilding efforts. Mr. Tomson, in closing the meeting, stated that “the report coming out of today’s work will be something that we rely on very heavily as we go forward.” A much larger event involving specific building proposals is being planned for later this year.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Fund for the City of New York, key financial supporters of the operations of the Center for Excellence, also provided funds to support Listening to the City. Beyond providing a $75,000 grant, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s President Stephen Heintz also helped secure funding from other groups. Other funders were: The Commonwealth Fund, the Ford Foundation, the JM Kaplan Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the FB Heron Foundation, the Fund for the City of New York, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Schumann Fund for New Jersey.