Cuts at Ground Zero are selling short the future of New York City


Santiago Calatrava’s Initial Design for the WTC PATH station
Historic Mosaic at the Fulton Street Subway Station, New York, NY?

At the conclusion of the critically acclaimed finance thriller Wall Street, stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is carried away by Federal agents for securities fraud. A grizzled financier with a conscience, Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook), pulls Bud aside and, paraphrasing Nietzsche, states, “Bud…Bud I like you. Just remember something. Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

It is in our darkest moments when we face our greatest challenges and simultaneously enjoy the opportunity for our finest triumphs. September 11, 2001 was our generation’s darkest hour. The tragedy of 9/11 begat the opportunity to rebuilt Lower Manhattan in a triumphant, defiant manner for eternity. But now, as we stare into the proverbial abyss of a deep and mysterious economic malaise, our appetite for defiance has waned, our commitment to the future has lulled, and our promise to rebuild in a meaningful and provocative manner has faded away.

This week, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owner of the Trade Center site, announced a new timetable for the reconstruction efforts at Ground Zero. The new timetable, which pushes back the opening of the 1776-foot-tall Freedom Tower until 2013 at the earliest, includes deep cuts in spending deemed superfluous in a time of declining tax revenues by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others.

The cuts include trimming the budget for the Fulton Street Transit Hub and World Trade Center PATH terminals, which will link 12 subway lines, the World Trade Center PATH trains, and provide thousands of square feet in commercial space. One of the most distressing cuts is to the soaring design for the PATH station by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The design provided for “wings” on the roof that would open up during good weather and on the anniversary of the attacks to, in Calatrava’s words, “giv[e] us the sense of unprotection.” It remains to be seen what, if any, of the initial design remains at the Trade Center site.

While there can be no doubt that the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is overseeing the construction of the new Fulton Street Transit Hub at the Trade Center as well as many other capital projects throughout the City, have had more than their fair share of corruption and gluttonous spending, the cuts recently announced by City Hall can only truly be understood as selling the future of New York City short for near-term expediency.

The first logical flaw in the reasoning behind the cutting of Calatrava’s design is the tired notion that aesthetics have no fundamental value to a community. Nothing could be further from the truth. Millions of New Yorkers understand the value of aesthetics as they traverse the subterranean tunnels of the subway system. Indeed, when the system opened in 1904, a colorful series of tile and ceramic mosaics greeted visitors on the platforms. In addition to offering spaces for public art, the artwork reflected the manner in which the City conceived of itself.

Even the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, rarely one for emotive reflection in its opinions, evoked the symbolism of the subway in Macwade v. Kelly, stating, “The subway is an icon of the city’s culture and history, an engine of its colossal economy, a subterranean repository of its art and music, and, most often, the place where millions of diverse New Yorkers and visitors stand elbow to elbow as they traverse the metropolis.”

More importantly, the slashing of the budgets for the Trade Center reconstruction is the product of callous disregard for the future denizens of New York who will pass through the site every day.

Unfortunately, the Fulton Street Transit Hub is only one of several projects that have seen their budgets slashed and their possibilities dwindle in recent months. The extension of the 7 line, from Times Square (42nd Street at 7th Avenue) to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (34th Street and 11th Avenue) will not include a station at 41st Street and 10th Avenue, despite the subway tunnel passing directly through this poorly served neighborhood. New York Senator Charles Schumer remarked, “Failure to build a full 7 train extension is a huge missed opportunity to promptly realize the complete potential of the Far West Side.”

It is truly ironic that, in an era of economic crisis precipitated by the greed of Wall Street corporations, the skeleton of the 7-line extension will serve the corporate interests in the burgeoning Hudson Yards district and not the residents who so desperately need access to the central business district of Midtown Manhattan.

Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, seeking, in vain, for a reasonable explanation for such a shortsighted blunder, stated, “most of the development around it [the proposed 10th Avenue station] is likely to be residential, and most residential doesn’t pay taxes. The development around it doesn’t contribute to paying back the bonds.” Of course, Doctoroff’s tunnel vision about tax revenues is blind to the many benefits of mass transit-environmental, cultural, and economic. Indeed, if public transit was developed with the philosophy Doctoroff prescribed, it is hard to imagine a transit project would ever be built in a poor neighborhood.

The Twin Towers will never be replaced. That much we knew on September 11, 2001. But in the tragedy of their destruction lay an opportunity none of us were prepared to undertake, but each of us was obligated to join. The rebuilding of Lower Manhattan and the construction of urban infrastructure more generally are not projects for the selfish at heart. We build these monuments, in the form of bridges, towers, and tunnels, for posterity. And we build them in times of plenty as well as times of great need. In our arguments over short selling, may we find the strength to resist selling short our future and instead embrace the challenges that calamity has laid at our feet.

Andrew L. Kalloch is a 3L and Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record

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