The wrong memorial

The wrong memorial

: Go now and read two truly superb pieces on the New York Post editorial page today about the mistakes we are making with the World Trade Center memorial emphasizing grief over hope, death over life, memorial over memory, political expediency over vision, today over tomorrow.

: In the first, Steve Cuozzo says that the proposed designs, though well-intentioned, are “the grimmest news out of Ground Zero in a long time” because the assignment was so ill-defined — forcing designers to fit “an impossible, 11-sided shape” in the shadow of Daniel Liebeskind’s towers and ego: “fatal consequences for the memorial that no creative genius could likely surmount.”

The result, Cuozzo says, is a “vocabulary of cacancy — pits, mordant waterfalls, funereal landscaping, ‘voids’ and subterranean vaults.”

He places the blame squarely on Gov. Pataki, “whose politically motivated micromanagement of Ground Zero continues to shackle it with unsustainable, irreconcilable constraints.”

He concludes what many of us who have followed this closely are coming to conclude: “With the memory of our loss so fresh, it may be years before we know the answer. Let us find the patience – and time – to learn.”

: Next, Post op-editor Mark Cunningham deftly, gently, respectfully, even brilliantly, tackles the single most difficult topic to address in this discussion of the memorial:

The Families.

The Families and their desire to make the place a graveyard, a mosoleum, a sacred space, an untouched space, a space for their grief.

He tells the story of a mother who lost a child in a terrible tragedy and let that become the focus of and the destruction of her life.

Consider: For most of the 3,000 killed on 9/11, that death had nothing to do with their lives. The only major link is the one the terrorists made. To make that the core of a permanent memorial is to choose to focus our memories on something that had nothing important to do with them.

The message to the ages is not about the love that the bereft feel, but about their grief.

About their pain, not about those they lost.

He argues in favor of the right memorial and he rgues, as I have, that is also necessary to bring life back to this place, not to surrender it to death.

Let us acknowledge that, insofar as we rebuild anything commercial at Ground Zero – offices or stores – we tread hard on genuine feeling.

Yet rebuild we will, for other needs for that site and its future are more compelling: The need to forge an answer of life.

Tragedy aplenty played out at the World Trade Center on 9/11, yet the event was no tragedy, but a monstrous act of evil. And the nation and the city must deny that evil its triumph – by fighting its authors and rooting out its causes, but also by answering their destruction with creation, at that very place….

A mediocre memorial would be a crime. But for me, the worst thing about putting the memorial first is that it is choosing as the site’s core identity – as a definition of our city, our collective self – the loss and grief.

That is, to set down a road of destroying everything else about who they were, and who we are.

: I don’t know what they would think of my proposed memorial. I’m not sure what I think of it now. That — and the quality of the memorial finalists — is why I am coming to believe that we are rushing into this.

Oh, how I would love to have a memorial at that site now. I came into it again this morning on the PATH train and I want to take away the scars of violence and cover them over with peaceful beauty; I want to replace the grief with memory. But it may be that we’re not ready to decide how to do that. No, we’re definitely not ready. The proposed designs prove that.

There’s nothing terrible about the designs. I agree with Cuozo that no genius could overcome the restrictions of the assignment (and the timing). But if this is the best we can do, then we need to find another way to do it.

We need to create a memorial not for the dead and not for the survivors but for the great-grandchildren of both. We need to create a memorial for the future.

: I agree that we need to slow down but I’m not sure how: Where’s the big, red button we push in this process. It’s not as if the designs deserve an outcry; we’ve had enough outcries. How do we tell Pataki, Bloomberg, the LMDC, and other authorities that someone needs to step in and suggest that the worst thing we could do right now is rush into the wrong decision?

(Other recent posts on the topic here (on having to maintain memory at the site), here (my reviews of the finalists), here (my proposal), and here, here, and here.)