Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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Scarcely a day goes by that I don't give someone directions to Ground Zero. They start coming up out of the downtown subways at the crack of dawn, clutching their New York City tourist maps, which are sorely deficient in Ground Zero information.
I always expect them to be disappointed -- it's drab, it's ugly, it looks like an ordinary construction site, and there's not really anything to see there -- but they never are.
They stand by the chain link fence for a long time. They buy the picture books at the sidewalk vendor stands. You can get one called "Day of Horror" and another one called "Day of Tragedy," but as it turns out, they both have the same 32 pages of color photos of the Twin Towers in flames.
I guess it depends on whether you're an "it's so horrible" person or an "it's so tragic" person.
They eventually wander over to St. Paul's Chapel and file slowly past the memorials that have been fastened onto the wrought-iron fence by thousands of other pilgrims. There are banners from elementary schools in Iowa, poetic essays from distraught teenage girls in Maryland, wilted flowers, messages from fire departments in Texas, proclamations from town councils in the Australian outback. And candles, so many candles, which eventually melt into a multi-colored mess that runs along the bottom of the fence.
If you took a poll of New Yorkers, most of them would say rebuild, and rebuild on a grand scale. But Ground Zero doesn't belong solely to New York. It really is a national property now, and the idea of the victims groups to turn it over to the federal government as a national park is not that far-fetched in theory. (As a practical matter, it's virtually impossible.)
What's disturbing to me is that most people can't make the leap from memorializing the actual ground to memorializing the people, who don't dwell in that ground, regardless of what particulate matter it might contain. If ever we needed symbolism, this would be the time. It's too bad that the authorities decided not to have an open competition among architectural firms, because the answer to all these competing interests could probably be found more quickly in the mind of an artist than that of a bureaucrat.
If I were doing it, I would want 50,000 architects from every country in the world considering the event, the site, and the meaning of it all, and sketching designs in their studios that would be submitted to a jury. Because the solution is likely to be something out of left field, something that no one has thought of, something that's not based on old models (the green market in Seattle, the downtown performing arts center like those in other cities).
If Sept. 11 really did change us, then what emerges at Ground Zero should be something strikingly novel and unexpected, a mixture of blood, tears, hope, and faith. And when we saw it, we would know it. And we wouldn't argue about the bedrock anymore. We would have the dirge, but we would also have the wake. If you want to look to other cities for solutions, look to New Orleans. When people die, they mourn, but they also have a parade.
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