Negotiation program reimagines WTC site

BY TIFFANY BENJAMIN

A group of students and dispute resolution specialists gathered Monday night at the Kennedy School of Government to begin the emotionally, spiritually and technically difficult process of discussing what should be done with the World Trade Center site.

The interactive event, entitled “Building Consensus Around the World Trade Center Site,” was sponsored by the Law School’s Program on Negotiation. Experts on New York City redevelopment plans, experts on dispute resolution and the general public weighed the constraints on redevelopment plans for the site as well as focusing on consensus building.

“Since 9/11, there has been no shortage of advice, feelings, thoughts, meetings,” said Maria Volpe, Director of the Dispute Resolution Program at the City University of New York.

Several ideas were floated for what should be done with the site, including the creation of a memorial park, the development of commercial or retail space and a mixture of both.

Panel members attempted to sift out a goal for the redevelopment and a method for implementing that goal. Courtney Cowart, of the 9/12 Foundation, used her personal experiences from being at the site to address her ideas for redevelopment.

“It may sound peculiar, but it was a privilege to be inside the cataclysm [during the attacks]…. It was a privilege because of what I saw in there. I saw people finding common ground in their humanity,” Cowart said.

Other panelists addressed tangible concerns. Tentatively, about $20 billion has been set aside for redevelopment of the area surrounding the World Trade Center site. Panelists attempted to create a method for allocating these funds, focusing on several projects, most notably the need for commuter transportation in Lower Manhattan.

“There has been a public consensus that has been reached in terms of transportation infrastructure. The most viable proposal has been the creation of a transportation hub,” said Marcia Van Wagner, Deputy Research Director of the Citizens Budget Commission. Transportation initiatives also focused on several other smaller projects in an effort to upgrade already existing areas such as the South Ferry Station.

Panelist Hugh Kelly, a New York City strategic consultant, stated that the lack of housing and a vibrant community in Lower Manhattan was another issue that needed to be addressed.

“It is that resident population that creates the neighborhood life,” said Kelly.All of the panelists agreed that further discussion was necessary, but that dispute resolution had the potential to play an important role in the redevelopment process.

Leon Amariglio, a student at Harvard Business School, agreed that the issue could not be resolved easily because of the different layers of conflict associated with the World Trade Center site.In the end, no final decision was reached on what should be done.

“We are not sure yet and uncertainty is a constraint. It would be nice if we could be sure about the future,” said Kelly.

A webcast of the panel is available at www.pon.harvard.edu

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