Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Westerners Argue Against the Freedom Tower

Our Town downtown
June 12, 2006

What the out-of-town couple said over beers a few weeks ago was the tipping point for us. They were in from out west for the first time in 10 years, and they went all over town to see things they knew when they used to come here as younger singles. On one of their recent mornings back here they took their now-married selves and their three grade-school-age kids to Ground Zero. It was surprising that night in the bar to hear how moved they’d been when they got to the space. We’re still moved by the memory of it all, so maybe it shouldn’t have surprised us when they were, but it did. They are in no way patriotic types, or sentimental. They’re city planners and generally react to things very rationally, very progressively. They usually, sometimes annoyingly, don’t want to appear to share the common sentiments. They were surprised themselves at their reactions.

It was the urban planner in them that went on then, over more beers, about the remaking of the World Trade Center site. They’re big newspaper readers and news-watchers and had kept up with the stop-start folly of what’s gone on so far down there. They shook their heads, like we have, over the lack of impressive progress at the site. Then they said they thought the idea of going ahead with the skyscraping 1776-foot Freedom Tower was insane. Who would want to work in it? Who would not sometimes feel insecure in it? Who needs it anyway? they said. No way would it really honor or be an homage to the sturdy, stolid twins that went down.

So, what then would they want instead of the tower, we asked, what would be a better thing to do down there? They were in accord on this, it was apparent that they’d been thinking about this maybe even before they went to the site; build stylish, essential buildings for people to work and live in, they said, create a memorial space, of course. But most importantly, recreate the dimensions of the towers in lights, like that brief month-long memorial experiment six months after the attack. They were emphatic about that. It would be safer than stacking people in another tower. And it would be a beautiful reminder of what was. And they hadn’t even seen the lights-up-into-the-sky like we had. They just knew they’d be better than what was proposed. They’d looked at pictures of them, seen them on the news. We agreed with them, and it wasn’t the beer talking. We’d been thinking for some time that those lights were the best timeless solution.

Now the friends are back in Nevada and we wonder if there are people here who think like they do. Like we do. Their lack of any enthusiasm for the design they‘d seen mirrored our own. And given that we hadn’t heard anyone here say much positive about the design, we think their lack of enthusiasm must mirror the out-of-towners’ feelings too.

Buildings always look better under construction than they do when completed. The naked light bulbs, the big cloths hanging, outside elevators, hard hats, all sorts of equipment and activity, and potential. The finished product is too sleek and cool and you especially miss those naked lights. The ground floor stores wind up being stores like they have in malls or like you get plenty of catalogs from and they turn out not to be as interesting as the construction workers who used to sit there at lunch time and stretch their legs and their personalities. New buildings wind up being dull.

The two beams of light would not be dull. They’d play with the evening and the late night darkness in magical ways. They would be ghostly and heavenly and sublime. No compromised 1776-foot building could move us like those lonely twin lights shining to infinity.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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