During the summer I spent researching and writing City Walks Architecture: New York, I kept putting Lower Manhattan off. I had been to Ground Zero a few times before on trips to New York, so it’s not that I hadn’t seen it. I just didn’t want to spend a day at Ground Zero doing all the things I had to do when researching all the other 24 walks: walking all the way around it, rewalking all the way around it, taking photos, taking notes, poring over history, filing every last detail, reliving a day I wish I’d never lived.
When I finally sucked it up and forced myself to go, I didn’t feel any of the dread I expected. I actually felt a great sense of relief. “It’s just a construction site” is the popular refrain you hear from New Yorkers. But I think the fact that it is a construction site—one where gorgeous, symbolic architecture is finally bubbling up from the surface—was actually the most reassuring thing of all for me. On any day, you can go to see this incredible testament of our country’s dedication to innovation and creativity and technology in action. It’s amazing that the topic I write about plays such a great role in helping Americans grieve, honor, remember.
I wrote two pieces for GOOD yesterday while reflecting on these thoughts. First I found nine beautiful memorials to other tragic events that have happened in recent memory, which gives me hope that, despite the years of turmoil about the redevelopment, when the 9/11 Memorial is finished it will be one of the most poignant and meaningful public spaces in the world.
The second piece I wrote was in reaction to the frightening hatred that’s directed at another proposed architectural project two blocks away. In “There’s a ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in Every American’s Backyard,” I talk about how the country should stop its bitter battle over one urban planning decision in Lower Manhattan and focus on fighting or supporting potential development that’s poised to transform our own communities.
When I made those endless loops around the site in 2008, I felt a great strength from seeing how respectful and resilient we are as a country. Yet today, when I woke up to the stories about what’s happening at Ground Zero, I felt a great sadness, not just because of what other people did to us, but because of what we’re doing to each other.