Rebuilding from scratch

NEW YORK (Washington Post) – Life has returned to the World Financial Center. Merrill Lynch is back, its building no longer a gouged wreck. Staffers of American Express and the Wall Street Journal fill the corridors of these grand structures once again. And the 10-story marble and glass Winter Garden atrium, smashed to bits in the collapse of the World Trade Center, gleams for its reopening later this month.

Renewal is rolling forward in some parts of Lower Manhattan, feeding the momentum to which city leaders naturally cling as they intone the mantra of revival. But just across the street, across West Street, stands the crucible. That gash in the city’s soul, that massive hole in the ground, is a developmental challenge like no other in American history. Rather than revival, it speaks, still, of terrorism’s toll.

Construction workers found more human remains on the roof of an adjacent building just the other day, pieces of someone’s skull, someone’s ribs.

This 16-acre site is so fraught with raw emotion, so drenched in symbolism that its fate remains the subject of an intense civic debate here about just what should be created on it and what values should lead the process.

With one false start behind them, in the form of those six design plans that were resoundingly rejected this summer by experts and citizens who called them mediocre, leaders of the development effort continue to grope for an inspired and overarching vision for what is likely to be the city’s most treasured site for decades to come.

In effect starting from scratch, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which are jointly running the redevelopment effort, last month invited a new round of designers to compete for position in a design study for the site. This time, the LMDC opened the competition to a far broader spectrum of the national and international design community, and a selection is expected by the end of this month. Officials overseeing the development of a memorial expect to begin their design competition early next year.

There is no precedent, no template, for the rebuilding of a destroyed site that many believed symbolized the economic strength of the city and the country. The process was conceived within an emergency and amid a tangle of competing economic,