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World Trade Center Rebuilding Marked by Disagreement, Delays - 2003-12-22

In 2003, New Yorkers tried to put behind them the grief that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and began the process of rebuilding the site where the attack occurred. Near the end of the year, officials in New York unveiled a final design for what will be called "Freedom Tower," which is to be the world's tallest structure. The officials also named the finalists in an international competition for a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks. Disagreement and delays characterized much of the effort to rebuild.

On the second anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attack in U.S. history, families gathered deep in the pit where the World Trade Center once stood. Children related to the victims read the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished.

The families of the victims remained deeply involved in the rebuilding effort.

Perhaps the major sign that the re-building process was seriously underway was the re-opening of the busy World Trade Center train station, restoring a vital link between lower Manhattan and neighboring New Jersey.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is designing a new permanent $5 billion transportation hub.

Construction also began on 7 World Trade Center, the last of the buildings that fell on September 11. World Trade Center leaseholder Larry Silverstein joined government officials as workers raised the first beam for the new 52-story building.

"Shortly after 9/11, I vowed to New Yorkers that we would rebuild the World Trade Center and the Trade Center site and 7 World Trade Center is the first evidence of exactly that," he said.

But behind the scenes, conflict overwhelmed the rebuilding process.

The government agency in charge of redevelopment launched an international design competition and chose architect Daniel Libeskind as "master planner." Meanwhile Mr. Silverstein, who acquired the lease on the World Trade Center complex just weeks before the attacks, hired a different architect, David Childs.

Robert Yaro, the director of the Regional Plan Association, a participating civic group, says the process has confused almost everyone. "It has been a very complex and emotional and highly political and very public process and a lot of important things have happened," he said. "We have made, over the last year, a master plan, and it is one which everyone has acclaimed. And now we are in the difficult business of refining the master plan and actually moving ahead and getting development to happen."

Despite sharp disagreements, Mr. Libeskind and Mr. Childs were finally able to meld their ideas. Mr. Libeskind's design features a so-called Freedom Tower, the world's tallest structure with a 540-meter high spire that evokes the symbol of the Statue of Liberty.

"Of course, my iconic tower is a 70 stories high office building where people work every day, but then it is transformed as it goes to 100 stories, the restaurant, an observatory platform and of course to its full height with antennas and equipment that was lost in the attack on the World Trade Center," he said.

New York Governor George Pataki, the most powerful player in the planning process, has said he is determined to begin construction of the Freedom Tower by the end of 2004.

"The Freedom Tower, for all who come here, no matter from what direction, they will witness the tower's imprint on the horizon and they will know our determination to overcome evil," he said.

The public has also been involved in the revitalization effort. International competitions for the master plan and a memorial followed clear public disapproval of designs presented soon after the attacks.

But some critics have raised concern about the quality of the latest proposals. Architect Michael Sorkin says they, too, are generic. Rather than building another giant skyscraper, he says officials should have focused first on the memorial.

"Looking back, I think that what was missing in this process was exactly what the terrorists attacked, which is democracy. It has been interesting," he said. "In all my years in New York, never have I seen a time when so many people were so engaged in questions in public space, planning and architecture, so that is a paradoxical upside of all of this horror."

The creation of a memorial for the victims of the September 11 attacks captivated people all over the world. More than 5,000 people from 62 countries submitted ideas.

But as 2003 came to a close, a jury from the art world and civic groups said they needed more time to choose a final design from a pool of eight finalists. The proposals, which incorporate organic elements such as water and light, gardens and inscribed names of the people killed in the disaster, are expected to be further refined.

Plans to fill the void in the New York skyline with the construction of new towers, parks, cultural centers, along with a memorial have been altered again and again. With major decisions and modifications still ahead, New Yorkers hope 2004 will bring a clear and firm plan for the future of the site.