The old World Trade Center towers sat on a barren, windswept plaza that cut off the city's street grid. That plaza was not a good setting to spark a romance, or even to linger for very long. At the same time that it was being built, however, a new breed of urbanists were revolting against life-sucking megalith buildings set on "superblocks."
After Sept. 11 the public demanded that the new World Trade Center plaza abandon the "superblock" style and let Manhattan's streets run through. The site is now supposed to be the kind of place, according to Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, "for a couple to meet in the early evening before a date."
And there will be many more couples nearby to take advantage of that opportunity. The Financial District is now far more diverse than it was ten years ago, with many more actual residents.
But will any of them want to meet up on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, with its inevitable heavy security and somber bronze panels inscribed with victims' names? Will it be filled with, in the words of Bloomberg Businessweek, "willowy assistants from Vogue flirting with bankers from the new Goldman Sachs building just across the street"?
On Wednesday, as Ward and others intimately involved in the rebuilding of Ground Zero -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg, real estate titan Larry Silverstein, site master planner Daniel Libeskind and Memorial Plaza architect Michael Arad -- gathered at 7 World Trade Center overlooking the site, that was a little hard to believe. The overcast sky pelted the plaza with rain, and the water in its twin reflecting pools swirled downward as if into a bottomless void. The runty trees lining the plaza, grown specifically for the site, don't look like they will provide much in the way of protection from sun or shower any time soon.
Arad, who was largely unknown before he won the design commission, believes the site will grow into its own. Although the Memorial Plaza officially opens to the public on Monday, Sept. 12, prospective visitors will still need a ticket to enter the site. For now, Arad acknowledged, his plaza is a place "to make you think...what we've lost."
But, he added, "it's critical to think of the site as a living part of the city." He pointed to other memorials -- like Washington Square Park -- that New Yorkers, including himself, visited to relieve stress after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Trust in the resiliency of this public space," he said. For now, it is in an "interim stage." Only in mid-2013 will the streets finally connect back to the grid. In the meantime, the plaza will be mostly a memorial only.
Arad found "some beauty" in the process of reconnection.
"Gradually, like a wound that is healing," he said, the plaza will become a part of the city's daily life.