Open Minds, Open Doors - Janet Luongo
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New York, Post-September 11

I volunteered to facilitate discussions with New Yorkers on July 20th about rebuilding Lower Manhattan after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. For me it was just an hour’s drive and $20 for parking at the Javits Center, but hundreds of facilitators flew in from all 50 states and 6 countries (including Afghanistan) and ponied up the cost of flights and hotels.

The six plans the developers came up with were officially unveiled to the public in the “largest town hall meeting ever.” 4500 people in a large hall peaceably discussed plans all day long. Technologically, it was a wonder. We sat at tables of 10, and each table had a computer to record comments – that’s right, those of you who are mathematical whizzes – that’s 450 computers donated to the cause for the day. And it gets better. Each participant was given the use of a “key pad” on which to respond to questions. Not only that, but the responses were put up on large video screens within minutes. And we were really knocked over when at the end of the day, volunteers came around with Preliminary Reports of the data – entered, compiled, laid out, printed and hot from the photocopier.

The statistics showed that there was a wide span of age and income and race that reflected the regional demographics. I was struck by the how many were directly effected by the events of 9/11. Almost 9% had a family member who was a victim. Almost 20% were survivors themselves. 65 % said they lived or worked in Lower Manhattan and 33.5% were at or near Ground Zero on 911.

This impressive data collection made some of feel heard. But many were skeptical and wondered if any action would be taken on what the developers heard. The main message was that people want less office space and more open, green space for recreation, the arts and a significant memorial; they want more housing and a community (not a tomb after 5 pm) that has a night life. This might be difficult since none of the plans called for buildings as high as the World Trade Towers were before. Owners of the buildings were insistent they had the right to ALL the office space that they had before 9/11. After the event, Listening to the City, I have read that the developers have gone back to the drawing board and are considering alternatives, and perhaps less office space at Ground Zero. Let’s hope the people of the city have been listened to.

Copyright 2002 Janet Luongo. You may forward but please give credit.
This article was printed in the electronic newsletter, Open Minds Open Doors

Vol. I # 4, Special Edition, Summer 2002