Memorial access is the elephant in the room

BY Clive Burrow

We’re leading full-speed-ahead, don’t-spare-the-horses, drill, build, and convert lives here in CanDo-FiDi-LOMA-SoMA-Lower Manhattan-Downtown. We’ve got residential issues, business issues and global corporate issues; there’s City Hall, Albany, the Port Authority; there’s National Security, local security and site-specific security. The Department of Transportation is very busy down here, the MTA has big plans and Mayor Bloomberg has given marching instructions to the City’s official tourism office.

Much of this activity is directly connected to the development of the World Trade Center site and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. But there’s an elephant in the room here, and it needs to be noticed.

Local Resident Access to the W.T.C. Plaza

Local residents should be given special access to the Memorial Plaza.

Picture eight acres with four hundred trees and imagine strolling beneath a canopy lending dappled shade in summer; a fantasy of color in fall; a striking lattice under cold winter skies and a vivifying spring burgeoning. Add the year-round sight and sound of the two largest man-made waterfalls in the land.

Picture this soon-to-be magical space plum in the center of our neighborhood.

Yet, as things stand, the Memorial Plaza will effectively be cordoned off from us. Residents will be denied access, except through systems aimed at visitors from afar.

Only about 1,500 people at a time will be allowed into the Memorial Plaza. There will, after all, be ongoing construction all around the site. Initially, there will be only one entrance to the Memorial Plaza, located at the southwest corner, making a general free-flowing of people through the site all but impossible. The N.Y.P.D. (necessarily sensitive about security issues) has created a special 673-officer command unit dedicated to the World Trade Center complex.

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum will be implementing a timed-ticketed access system. The families of victims, first responders and a constant stream of VIPs will have special access (and one of the three ground floor spaces the museum has leased at 90 West St. will be reserved for their use). Everyone else will need to wait. We are not “everyone else.”

How To Do It

Access to the Memorial Plaza for locals as of right at anytime will not be feasible. There will be peak times when it is impractical to make allowance for the entire neighborhood.

Moreover, mourners should be given special times for quiet, solemn contemplation as part of a greater, more encompassing admissions policy.

But there will be — must be — times, perhaps early morning before many tourists are up and about, late afternoon, when many return to their hotels in preparation for the evening’s entertainment; perhaps Sunday mornings until noon, when locals are allowed fast-track access.

There are thousands of families who live south of Canal Street in at least five distinct neighborhoods. Many of these families were here before 2001. Many have since made the district home. We understand being kept out of a construction site, we understand security issues, we understand the sensibilities of the bereaved, but to be denied access to eight acres of air in the heart of our community would not be understandable and would not be very neighborly.

A memorial is not simply about the past. It is not a place for sadness alone, but a place for hope and aspiration and curative pleasure. Tragic though the events of 9/11 were, they are for most children up to the age of say 15, a matter of history, not of immediate, tangible grief. To have children learn through artifact and sense of place is good. To have their laughter in the Memorial Plaza will be a joyous balancing to this historic tragedy. To keep them outside the fence would simply be wrong.

Clive Burrow is chairman of the Lower Manhattan Marketing Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting Lower Manhattan below Canal Street by marketing the neighborhood as a premier destination for New York City residents, tourists and businesses.


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