Obama at Ground Zero: Emotion, Memories (And Some Embarrassment for New York)

President Obama is visiting Ground Zero as a sequel to the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death. It will undoubtedly be moving.

It will also be embarrassing.

Nearly ten years after terrorists smashed planes into Lower Manhattan, the most optimistic thing you can say about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center is that it's a work in progress.

Only one of what were supposed to be five new towers -- 1 World Trade Center -- is really, indisputably on the rise. WTC 4 is definitely being built -- it's reached about 20 stories -- but progress was delayed when financing problems arose last month.

Towers 2 and 3 are pretty much just large basements. The fifth tower, which was supposed to rise from the site of the doomed Deutsche Bank, is nowhere to be seen, although the city did finally manage to dismantle the old building after a nine-year struggle.

And then there's the Calatrava-designed transit center, the beautiful glass-winged centerpiece of redevelopment that is now scheduled to be done in 2015. At a cost that's risen from $2.2 billion to $3.4 billion and is reportedly ready to climb once again.

It's not exactly a tribute to the can-do American spirit. More like will-eventually. At exceedingly high cost.

Perhaps the layers of emotion were just too deep to make for any kind of quick decision-making. It's touching, in retrospect, to think of how much time New Yorkers devoted to selecting an architectural vision for lower Manhattan -- very little of what got selected has much relation to what's actually been built.

The terrorists also managed to choose a spot that was overburdened with layers of management. The Port Authority, which owned the World Trade Center, is run by two states, and the New York side has always been tortured between Albany-New York City turf battles. Developer Larry Silverstein had leased the World Trade Center towers weeks before the attack, and has been latched onto the hip of the governmental authorities ever since. A Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, created to manage all the disparate pieces, wound up being just another bureaucratic layer.

If there was going to be a single strong hand pulling everything together, it would have had to belong to the governor of New York, and we haven't been particularly lucky on that count. George Pataki, who was there for the crucial early years of the project, was a weak leader. Eliot Spitzer, who succeeded him, had a strong hand but a very limited tenure, thanks to his wandering libido. David Paterson, who stepped in for Spitzer, stumbled badly.

So here we are. United in our reverence for the dead, totally out to lunch when it comes to our ability to meet a construction deadline. The memorial to the victims is promised to be ready by the tenth anniversary in September.

World Trade Center 1 -- which we have apparently, and mercifully, stopped calling
Freedom Tower -- is on the rise.

As for everything else, don't hold your breath. At least we got bin Laden.