A well-tempered account of the fraught political struggles over the reconstruction of the World Trade Center.
Greenspan (Urban Anthropology/Harvard) is not a New Yorker; she was raised in Philadelphia and now lives in Boston. This distance on the subject, as well as her training, may account for her ability to keep her head above the fray. Despite her “outsider” status, Greenspan paid close attention to developments at ground zero from the earliest days after 9/11. She interviewed not only major players, including former New York governor George Pataki, commercial real estate developer Larry Silverstein, designer Daniel Libeskind, Port Authority Chairman Christopher Ward, and surviving family members and activists, but also “ordinary” people—tourists, lower Manhattan residents, 9/11 truthers and members of Occupy Wall Street—to get at the broad range of meanings of the disaster to the city, the nation and the world. Considering how different those meanings are to different people, it’s a virtual miracle any progress on reconstruction was made. From early on, the Port Authority, which owned the land, and Silverstein, who owned the buildings on it, struggled to balance their need to rebuild commercial space with expectations from families and politicians to respect the “sacred” ground believed to contain the irretrievable remains of up to a third of those killed in the attacks. Winner of an international competition to create a master plan for the space, Libeskind saw his design altered to the point where only the height of his proposed Freedom Tower remained. Greenspan also tells the fascinating stories of the most contentious controversies, including the Freedom Center, a well-connected, well-meaning educational organization crushed by popular opposition, and the Islamic Center two blocks north of ground zero, which weathered a similar campaign in 2010.
A must-read study of the power of democracy and shared memory to shape our public spaces.