A superbly qualified scholar thoroughly deconstructs the tortured story behind the rebuilding of the World Trade Center complex.
Fundamentally, the resurrection of the site in Lower Manhattan destroyed by the 9/11 attacks was a public/private real estate development project, albeit a vast, complicated, and hugely expensive one. Of course, the traumatic event that necessitated the rebuilding supercharged the atmosphere surrounding all the decision-makers: a private, lease-holding developer, New York’s governor, the city’s mayor, and the Port Authority, the bistate agency that owned the property. These players and a host of lesser but still formidable participants—world-class architects, security experts, the victims’ families—all jostled for power, engaged in a protracted, elaborate game of “pick-up-sticks” where no decision could be made without affecting something else on the site. An aggressive, opinion-shaping press looked on. As she maneuvers through the 15-year rebuilding effort, Sagalyn (Real Estate/Columbia Univ. Business School; Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon, 2001, etc.) keeps the many strands of this story expertly in hand: the legal, economic, and commercial realities; the shifting alliances and balance of power; the political and public relations dynamics regarding property and contract rights; the interdependencies among the parties; the clashing egos and ambitions of the scores of principal actors. Objectively and assuredly, Sagalyn chronicles hundreds of episodes within this immense story of the messy, sometimes seemingly leaderless rebuilding effort. From the dry and legalistic but vital issue of whether the leaseholder could make good on his “two-occurrence” insurance claim to the political controversy over establishing a cultural presence at the site to the mundane but essential matters of infrastructure and transportation to the emotionally charged question of how to display the victims’ names on the panels surrounding memorial waterfalls on the tower “footprints,” the author neatly handles every challenge posed by this multidimensional saga.
The narrative’s sheer bulk will likely intimidate some readers, and that would be a shame, because Sagalyn has produced a definitive history and an urban studies classic.