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The time taken to build on Ground Zero is the real issue

I think that in the light of the recent controversy about the place possibly known as the Cordoba Center near Ground Zero, the real cause for annoyance on the part of any New Yorker, surely, is why it has taken so long to get going with any serious construction down there. This Wikipedia entry on the Empire State Building, for example, suggests that the building in Midtown was erected in a space of only a few years. That was in the early 1930s – what was so radically different then?

I suspect that if we already had an impressive and dignified piece of architecture in the southern tip of Manhattan, the row about what happens to nearby buildings would not have erupted so much. It seems that planning and political issues are at stake here – after all, places such as Dubai and various parts of Asia put up skyscrapers with great speed these days.

Or maybe the intention all along is that Ground Zero should remain a flat, empty space of land, purely in the form of a place for remembrance.

39 comments to The time taken to build on Ground Zero is the real issue

  • On the money JP. Absolutely. Something awesome should now by in place there. That is the best form of revenge. You knock it down, we rebuild it better and bigger.

  • manuel II paleologos

    The Wikipedia article you link to states that One World Trade Center is under construction. Is that not correct?

    It always amazes me how quickly these things got designed in an era before our supposedly productivity-enhancing computers. Two weeks, apparently.
    Another impressive one is Hagia Sophia in Constantinople which took just six weeks to design.

    I also read once that it was completed months early and at half its original budget thanks to unexpectedly cheap and plentiful depression-era labour, although the article doesn’t seem to mention that.

  • manuel II paleologos

    (“it” in that last sentence being the Empire State Building, not Hagia Sophia)

    Although Hagia Sophia too was done in around 5 years, which seems amazing even by today’s standards. It collapsed a couple of times, mind you…

  • steveg

    My view was that to slap the Islamists in the face you build a new WTC exactly like the old one (with maybe a few refinements like stronger beams)

    In other words, every time you knock something down we will build it back, but better. No matter what it costs we will not be deterred.

    Still want to play, Osama?

  • ClockworkOrange

    No big mystery …

    “The Port Authority owns the land; Larry Silverstein has development rights—and they can’t agree on who will pay for further building.”



  • Johnathan Pearce

    Clockwork, well, if there were genuine property/economic reasons for the lack of building, then surely something would have happened to all that prime estate now. Considering how much it costs to build in NY, I am still staggered at the lack of any development.

    It is incredibly sad. I cannot help but feel that America’s decline as a vibrant economy is summed up by the lack of action at Ground Zero. Perhaps I am being too harsh: in a free market, of course, the owner of the plot can do what the heck he or she wants.

  • Jacob

    1. The Empire State building was built in 15 months not “a few years”.
    2. Given the design of Libeskind for the “freedom tower” it’s as well that it isn’t being built, or we’ll have there another post-modern horror story.

    3. Is there demand for office space in Manhattan ? With the economy tanking I’m not sure the tower is needed. There is nothing worse or more tragic than an empty tower.

  • Daveon

    That was in the early 1930s – what was so radically different then?

    There’s a world of difference between building on a clean site and clearing a “brown field” site.

    While there have been un-necessary delays around what they were going to build, there’s been a lot of practical stuff to deal with that just takes a metric s*%load of time to deal with.

    There was a lot of underground work that had to be done before you could even think about starting to build again, especially if you’re planning to build another 500m+ tall structure on top of ground that already has stuff down there like rail lines, metro stations and so on. Not to mention it took them over a year to get the debris off the site and make sure that none of the surrounding buildings were about to fall down. If memory serves, they ended up having to demolish one of them quite late in the process.

    We can build new builds quickly enough, but generally speaking not in the middle of cities where there’s a massive pile of infrastructure under where you’re planning to build the thing.

  • Laird

    “Perhaps I am being too harsh: in a free market, of course, the owner of the plot can do what the heck he or she wants.”

    There’s your flaw; it’s not a “free market”. There are endless overlapping governments and agencies, all exerting some element of control. And the fundamental problem, of course, is that the land is owned by the Port Authority, a political body subject to the predictable sorts of contradictory (and endlessly shifting) political forces. Silverstein may own the development rights, but not the land itself. Everyone in the game has a veto, so the end result is that nothing gets done.

    What should be done is to take this opportunity to divest the government of this large chunk of prime real estate in the heart of the financial district. Carve out some small piece for a memorial, build a park and a tasteful monument there, and sell off the rest (to Silverstein or whoever bids the highest). In private hands something would be built within 5 years. So of course that will never happen; when was the last time you heard of a government agency voluntarily giving up land?

  • The WTC must be rebuilt precisely as it was on the morning of 9/11, just before it was hit. This will “_send a strong message_” about the kind of people that we are and intend to stay.

  • John K

    Anyone who commissions Libeskind to design anything is having a laugh. The only thing to be said in his favour is that at least he isn’t Lord sodding Rogers.

  • Mike Giles

    The “Usual Suspects” were suggesting it not be rebuilt (i.e., let the terrorists win) before the ashes had even cooled. The anti development types were looking for some kind of hole in the ground “Memorial Park”. As for office space in Manhattan, the NY Times, along with other real estate types, didn’t want the WTC rebuilt in order to find customers for the real estate properties they were building or owned.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    We can round up the usual suspects (regulations, influence peddling, rent-seeking and so on) and we won’t be too far wrong. But keep in mind also, that there was nothing like the communications infrastructure we now have, in 1970, and that the economic justification for huge office buildings may have disappeared since the WTC was built.

    Perhaps we could invade Mecca, seize the kaaba and install it square in the middle of the WTC site? Probably not a good idea, but strangely satisfying.

  • Verity

    Steve G – Agreed.

  • Verity

    Person from Porlock – Why go to the expense of moving the kabaa? Just seize it and create a festive atmosphere by blowing it up right there, with celebrations all round? Speaking of “round”, that should be, rounds of alcoholic drinks for all. And dog walking competitions.

  • Jim

    “That was in the early 1930s – what was so radically different then?”

    Maybe the developers and the builders’ unions had bought the right people in City Hall?

    “There’s a world of difference between building on a clean site and clearing a “brown field” site.’

    I think the Empire State Building went up where the Waldorf Astroia had stood, so it was a brown site too, although not quite as brown apparently.

  • jsallison

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devon_Tower is being built out behind my current workplace. It’s going up at about a story a week clip right in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City.

  • Nuke Gray

    Verity, I think the idea was to move the Kaaba, and thus have the building protected from muslims, since the stone is supposed to be sacred. Actually, it would probably be re-taken by extremists.
    The idea of levelling Mekka brings a smile to my mind, since that would destroy Mohammedism, but its’ death spasms might cause inordinate suffering. It would be far better to threaten to do so, and blackmail jihadiots into behaving reasonably.
    And a better principle than ‘you knocked it down, and we have rebuilt it’, would be, ‘You knocked it down, and you are going to pay for a new one!’

  • Verity

    Nuke Gray – how is the stone of the kabaa sacred if not to muslims? We should therefore destroy it. I wonder how “Up yours, allah!” looks in Arabic script …

    Again, you write, “And a better principle than ‘you knocked it down, and we have rebuilt it’, would be, ‘You knocked it down, and you are going to pay for a new one!'”

    No. No, you are going to rebuild it. Slave labour. Sound familiar, Amir? And the new one will be called St Peter’s.

    The Saudis can’t even open their own refrigerator door without the help of a Filippina or Sri Lankan maid, so they would get an opportunity to be exposed to the actual rigours of picking tools up and using them.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Empire State Building is significantly less massive than either of the WTC towers were, and significantly less roomy.

    However, the present day construction is delayed for two simple reasons: all the lawsuits impeding progress, and all the corruption endemic to NYC, particularly the unions.

  • Laird

    Nuke, please define “inordinate suffering” in this context.

  • Nuke Gray

    Laird, they might call us names. Nasty names. And Iran is about to develop nuclear weapons. So rioting mohammedans might have nuclear chaos of their own to unleash.

  • The Kaaba?

    Destroy it?

    Nah, how barbaric.

    Now my fantasy, which of course I would never truly advocate, not wanting to offend the adherents of the Religion of Peace who might start looking in my direction, is to put the Kaaba into an inclined orbit. Thus guaranteeing that every rock worshiper, world wide, would each have to genuflect in a different, and ever changing, direction to all other rock worshipers each and every time they worshipped said rock.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, I stand corrected on the ownership of land issue; all the more reason to privatise it and let whichever owners decicde what to do, although I imagine the City authorities will demand that some sort of dignified memorial could be put there, which in the circumstances would seem entirely reasonable.

    Others have raised logistical/engineering issues as a reason for why it is taking a long time to build down there. Well up to a point, but 10 years is still a long time, and I am afraid it is politics and legal crap that is behind most of this, not some sort of great architectural problem.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Several commenters have referenced that fatal mix of politics, government ownership, and corruption. I agree absolutely. There is also the matter of several orders of magnitude more of permits, hearings, and approvals that are mandatory now, that did not exist when the Empire State Building was erected. When any individual or lobbying group can stop any project almost indefinitely with protests and appeals, the permitting process takes far longer than actual construction and may be more expensive. When NIMBY-ism [I don’t know if y’all have such a thing in Britain. It means Not In My Back Yard, and refers to protests to anything being built in your neighborhood. Or worse, our Greens are fond of BANANA. Build Absolutely Nothing, Anywhere Near Anything.] becomes the norm, nothing happens. That is one reason our society is failing to cope with any change. We paralyse ourselves.

    Then there is another matter. There was one church actually destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church had been there for generations. The parishioners have been willing, eager, and able to rebuild on their own land almost from the moment the rescue efforts ended. The City has refused to issue the necessary permits, and according to the Archbishop; the City has refused to even respond to any communications from the Greek Orthodox Church for over a year.

    This may have something to do with the mayor. Mayor Bloomberg is one of the richest people in the country, being personally worth literally $billions. His Bloomberg LLC is a major financial player in the world and intends to open a major HQ and hub in the Dubai International Finance Center and functionally take over the NASDAQ Dubai and become “one single provider of information that caters to the Islamic finance market”; pocketing several $billion more in the process. Bloomberg is a strong proponent of building the Cordoba Mosque on the ruins from the WTC attack, and his administration is blocking the rebuilding of a Christian church on its own ground in those ruins. That stand probably is looked upon with favor by his Islamic financial collaborators.


    This citation from a UAE paper is a couple of years old, but gives the background. There are updates on the continuing project available if you look.

    Combine bureaucracy, corruption, and self-serving PC Dhimmi-tude, and nothing gets done.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • manuel II paleologos

    Actually, your descriptions of what to do to the Kaaba aren’t very different from what the Religion of Peace did to the site of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Dismantled it block by block, and then eventually allowed it to be rebuilt, for a large fee. That’s a 1000th anniversary that seemed to go strangely unremarked last year.

    During the same period they also did the same to Santiago de Compostella, and vandalised St Peter’s in Rome, achieving an impressive hat-trick of desecrations of all three of Christianity’s holiest sites of pilgrimage.

    Just finished Tom Holland’s book “Millennium”; not bad, and good to know a bit more about the Normans and the first Reich, and indeed Cardinal Humbert in Constantinople – perhaps history’s worst diplomat, but some of his broad-sweep views are a bit flaky and he has an irritating need to make smartarse allusions to modern politics and for some reason to The Lord Of The Rings. Time well spent, but was happy to reach the end.

  • John B

    We are, indeed, in serious trouble.
    The GZ mosque will simply be the continuation, and a climax of, the massive celebrations that erupted in the western-unfriendly world when the twin towers were blown up and down (with the 3,000 human sacrifice as icing on the top).
    It is very well and good to be civilised and very rational in one’s responses as long as one has a very true and personal awareness of what is actually going on here, and what, exactly, is the pain of dhimmitude.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Subotai Bahadur, thanks very much for the information and context about the Greek church and Bloomberg’s possible motives. If this is even half-true, it is very bad, very bad indeed.

    I always tended to assume that in his business dealings, Bloomberg had been a pretty good entrepreneur, although no doubt with a ruthless streak. He gave Reuters a serious competitor (nearly fatal, in fact); developing an excellent news and information platform. If this man is now foiling attempts by a religious group to rebuild a church destroyed by a bunch of fanatics, while giving his blessing to a building with a provocative name, then I hope the man gets trounced when he is next up for the mayorality.

  • mehere

    In one sense, the delays and debate about what should be done with the site of the WTC is symptomatic of what the West is and how it behaves. In the meantime, as we flounder in our desire to be fair and objective, the Muslims push and plan for a place of their own.

    Even if the Islamists don’t see this place they build as a victory mosque, they are sufficiently hard-nosed to not care if anyone is offended by it being built. Our reactions are our problem, and muslims are quick to make sure they play on those reactions. There is no sense of a ‘trade off’ or compromise in the way we have repeatedly tell ourselves that is how civilisation works.

    Perhaps that is because Islam is untroubled by such vague notions of freedom in the way we would define it. After all, if you cannot leave their religion then there is no point in thinking of such silly notions as freedom of choice.

    Someone once said that ‘Freedom is messy’ and at Ground Zero we can see that in all its implications. While we are ‘free’ and thus struggle to come to agreement and the resolution of conflicting ideas, the muslims steam ahead with what they want. They havea clear idea, and we don’t. Of course, they may not get it though there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to say anything but ‘yes’ right now.

    But in the long term the muslim determination to use any and all the faults and variables in the west does us no good, and aids those who in some way or another are closer in ideals to those who flew the planes into the buildings.

    Obama did no favours with his ‘they can build any where’ speech because we already knew, one way or another, they have the legal right and certainly intend to use that. Meanwhile, we bicker over a derelict site while declaring we love freedom.

  • John B

    This seems to be a fair idea of things to come?
    Pajamas Media:

  • Laird

    ClockworkOrange, I can’t get your link to that two-year-old NYT article to open, but I can’t imagine that after all this time it contains much of relevance. As to the brief Daily News piece, do you really believe anything Bloomberg says? I don’t. And if the Greek Orthodox Church really owns that land, as Subotai Bahadur states, what is the Port Authority’s role and why are they talking about “find[ing] a location”? Claiming that the church “doesn’t fit in with the Port Authority plans” is a ruse. Bloomberg may not control the PA, but undoubtedly he has significant influence there. If he didn’t want them to stall for 9 years construction on land which they don’t own they wouldn’t have. I don’t believe him, I don’t trust him, and I find it far more likely that he’s using the situation to his own personal financial advantage than that he is merely the captive of an unresponsive bureaucracy.

  • ClockworkOrange

    >> do you really believe anything Bloomberg says?

    Why the hell not? Shrewd businessman, 8th richest person in America, NY Mayor twice reelected, and I heard him speak on the TV occasionally, he strikes me as extremely fair minded and entirely reasonable. I’ll take his word over some anonymous commenter’s insane rantings (that refers to Subotai) any day.

    In any even, from 2008 article:

    “But the church retained the 1,200-square-foot parcel where its building once stood. Initially, the Port Authority suggested that St. Nicholas move to the northeast corner of Cedar and West Streets, a stone’s throw away. But parish leaders and the archbishop balked, saying that the site would be more than 20 feet above street level because of the screening center that is to be constructed below, and that they wanted a more prominent location on Greenwich Street.

    The church settled on an alternative, at the southwest corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets, in front of the soon-to-be-demolished Deutsche Bank building. The idea was to swap the church’s land on Cedar Street for that spot, which is seven times larger.

    But a deal was never struck, as negotiations were interrupted time and again by an array of disasters and distractions, including the discovery of human remains atop the former Deutsche Bank tower in 2005 and a fire at the bank tower in which two firefighters died in 2007.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Clockwork, regardless of what are the real or alleged merits of Mr Bloomberg, your posting does not really answer the points that other guy made as far as I can tell. Bloomberg is quite capable of cutting some sharp deals and he is not exactly beloved by all New Yorkers.

    And I could not help but laugh when you sneered at an “anonymous commenter’s insane rantings”. Is Clockwork Orange your real name then? Bet you hate your parents!

  • Correct me if I am wrong, but I have some vague memory of Clockwork attending this site in the past and offering defence for Islamism and Islam alongside our old friend Slartibartfast.

    As I remember it, at that time he was offering a load of tendentious tosh on a topic I was familiar with, so could he be doing the same this time on a topic I can’t coment on?

    After all, who in the West, left or right, would take this statement seriously?

    Why the hell not? Shrewd businessman, 8th richest person in America, NY Mayor twice reelected, and I heard him speak on the TV occasionally, he strikes me as extremely fair minded and entirely reasonable. I’ll take his word over some anonymous commenter’s insane rantings (that refers to Subotai) any day.

    It is more from a mindset moulded by “admire the great leader” type propaganda.

    Islamist (and Russian) trolls can be subtle, but once you know what to look for they start standing out.

  • Paul Marks

    I said very similar things to this post, some years ago (on this site) so, of course, I agree.

    The United States just is not the country it once was – the country where the Empire State Building (and later the Pentagon) was built in 18 months.

    That country may be one day restored (although remember it was already in decline in the 1930’s), but it does not exist at the present time.

    With that kept in mind the terrible farce at Ground Zero since 9/11 was predictable.

    Remember people are still sueing each other (out of control tort law) – and there are now so many rules and regulations (as well as taxes) that none of the things for which New York is famous for could be built now – at least not without vast delay and expense.

  • Paul Marks

    Daveon – all the landmark buildings of New York (and most other American cities) were built on “brown field sites” (i.e. other buildings had to be got rid of first).

    Also building in the 1920’s was no slower than in the 1930’s .

    It astonishes me what lengths people will go to deny the truth – America is a civilization in decline.

    That does not mean that America will not be restored (I hope it will be), but to deal with a problem one must first accept that one has a problem.

    When one is still trapped in the self deception stage things are bad.

  • Laird

    Paul Marks is certainly correct that the United States “is not the country it once was”, and is at least arguably correct that our civilization is in decline. There isn’t any particular point in his posts with which I disagree. But his overall tone is, I think, darker than is truly warranted. Things aren’t totally bleak over here; this isn’t Oceania (yet). We haven’t descended into purges and pogroms; there is no Cultural Revolution underway. Even with our problems this is still a pretty decent place to live. Furthermore, there is some evidence that ordinary people are waking up to the nature and magnitude of our political and cultural decline, so there are some bright spots on the horizon. The elections this November will be of more-than-usual historical significance.

    As to ClockworkOrange’s post, I’ve followed Michael Bloomberg’s career for a long time (I’m originally from the Northeast, although I now live in the Old South). His (alleged) “extremely fair minded and entirely reasonable” TV persona notwithstanding, he is a scheming opportunist, obsessed with power, and I trust him less than I do the average politician, which is saying something. That is “why the hell not”.

  • Paul Marks

    Laird. Bloomberg – agreed (the man is an arsehole).

    Too dark a picture of America and the West – I hope you are right.

    One small thing that could prove me to be taking a too dark a view – at least change the name of the main replacement buidling back to “Liberty Tower” the “One World Tower” name is classic leftistism, it is a sickening name.