Reviewing plans for the W.T.C.

It is much more telling to look at what many of the supporters of the plans to redevelop the World Trade Center site are saying rather than the critics. The critics will of course highlight flaws in the plan designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and look to turn the public tide against it.

So it was not a surprise to hear attacks against the plan from the critics at the first round of environmental hearings last week. But to hear a group like New York New Visions, which advised the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. on the process that selected Libeskind and which has gone out of its way to defend the architect’s plan, to hear this group of professional architects point out deficiencies in the plan, one can’t help but take notice.

What are the points that New Visions is making?

That there is too much office bulk on the site. That you can’t add a memorial, streets, rebuild all of the W.T.C. office space, double the retail and expect to have a good plan.

We agree with those points.

We also think there is too much office space proposed along Church St. and there should be larger street-level plazas built on the site.

If the Downtown office market recovers to the point that there is a demand for 10 million square feet of office space – and we sure hope it does quickly – not all of it should be built at the W.T.C. site. Some can be shifted to other places in Lower Manhattan.

Clearly, the Port Authority, which owns the site, and developer Larry Silverstein, which owns the leasing rights, have to at least put up the facade that they expect to rebuild the office space as Silverstein pursues his insurance claims, but the rest of us have to deal with the reality – 16 acres is not a bottomless pit and there are only so many things that can be done at the site.

Silverstein’s push to move Libeskind’s tower closer to Church St. thankfully appears to have been quashed by the governor. Libeskind’s plan needs to be adjusted, but at a certain point – and moving the tower is past that point – the plan will have been changed so much that the only sensible thing to do would be to open up the process and start again. We’re two years after the attack, and such a setback now would be a serious blow to Downtown’s rebuilding momentum, and psyche.

If officials can meet Gov. George Pataki’s goal of beginning the construction of the Freedom Tower by next August, that will no doubt be a boost to Lower Manhattan. But while the August 2004 goal is a good spur to action, it is not clear that it can happen without foolishly pushing through a fictitious environmental review process. It is important that the reviews and studies be done while considering serious options, such as 6 million square feet of office space, rather than options like building a memorial only – something everyone knows will never happen and only shows callousness to many of the relatives of the Sept. 11 attack. The environmental statement should not be viewed as a way to rubber stamp a pre-set plan, but as what it is – a serious search for the best option.

If President Bush ends up leaving town after the Republican convention a few months before the tower construction begins, that will be a lot better than approving a plan before more improvements could have been made.

City Hall security

The murder of Councilmember James E. Davis last week in City Hall was indeed “a blow struck in the heart of our government,” as Mayor Bloomberg said. The Mayor’s new policy that requires that all people — including all politicians and journalists — entering City Hall must pass through metal detectors, makes sense. It makes the building safer and sends the message that the pols will live by the same rules they set for others. We have in the past questioned the need to place the detectors where they are because it cuts City Hall Park in half and closes off the plaza, but we have never questioned the need for detectors to protect people in the building.

Our condolences to the family, friends and supporters of James E. Davis.