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Rebuilding Ground Zero: How mandates of revival, remembrance reshaped Lower Manhattan

By Lynne B. Sagalyn, Columbia University   |   Aug. 27, 2016 at 6:00 AM
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From the beginning, rebuilding Ground Zero was fraught with strategic consequence, for the city of New York and for the nation.

The original World Trade Center complex, completed in 1973, represented the culmination of a decades-long effort to revitalize the city's founding center of business. Forty years later, rebuilding those 16 acres reprised history – with new meaning, in a new century, in a new geopolitical context brought forth by 9/11.

The destruction of the massive complex created a rare opportunity for New York City to rethink its long-term economic needs in the downtown area, while sending a message to the world that regardless of whatever al-Qaida terrorists aimed to do, New York City would come back stronger than ever. It was an unparalleled opportunity in the city's history that otherwise would not have happened.

This opportunity carried with it an unquestionable priority: everlasting remembrance of those who died on that fateful day. September 11 transformed the human meaning of the World Trade Center site. What had been secular was now sacred, a graveyard for nearly 3,000 souls. Those 16 acres, achingly defined by past images of the iconic twin towers anchoring the skyline of lower Manhattan, were now unbearably painful ruins transformed into repositories of memory.

That led to many tough questions: How would the need to commemorate the loss of thousands of lives be accommodated with the need to rebuild an economic future for lower Manhattan? How would the rhetoric of defiance and resilience translate into concrete plans, architectural reality, political decisions, building priorities and economic costs? And who had the power to execute the ideals and ambitions of rebuilding when property rights were split and political power fragmented?

Those are among the many questions I sought to answer in my book Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan by unraveling the political and economic dynamics behind the controversies and conflicts that shaped the process of rebuilding, including billions in public aid to ensure visible construction progress by the 10-year anniversary.

Five years later, though it's not yet fully complete, the palpable energy on the site belies the conventional wisdom that delay has been destructive.

Symbolic city building

I started this research after completing Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon. The successful redevelopment of naughty bawdy West 42nd Street became testimony to the city's ability to once again think big and execute on an ambitious scale.

Rebuilding the World Trade Center site, however, differed from the Times Square project in two salient ways that complicated the task: The cast of players was much larger, especially on the intergovernmental front, and the emotional overlay of 9/11 created an unprecedented planning condition. If Times Square served as the symbolic soul of the city, the World Trade Center served as the symbolic pulse of its economy – despite the fact that much of downtown's financial establishment had moved to midtown Manhattan.

As in Times Square, the importance of symbolic politics loomed large at Ground Zero. And for 15 years, rebuilding Ground Zero has been the world's most visible redevelopment project.

To understand the multiple forces underlying the decision-making, I spent 12 years sourcing hundreds of primary documents, reading through thousands of articles and consulting scores of public testimonies, economic reports, design statements, meeting minutes and other documents. This research is also based on more than 150 interviews with nearly all the players and many others whose involvement or expertise was relevant to unraveling a story in which complexity prevailed at every level: design, emotion, security, governance, control.

While modern city building is often dismissed as cold-hearted and detached from meaning, the opposite was true at round zero, where every action was infused with symbolic significance and debated with emotional intensity.

The twin mandate: To rebuild and remember

The cleanup effort removing 1.5 million tons of debris out of the 70-foot-deep hole of the World Trade Center site was unexpectedly rapid. Its completion in May 2002 marked a profound turning point: It signaled the start of renewal at Ground Zero – a dual effort to rebuild and remember.

A month later, then-Gov. George Pataki made a surprise announcement, declaring: "We will never build where the towers stood." From that point forward, the "footprints" became sacred ground, inviolable. A permanent memorial would have to "make visible the footprints" of the original towers, which meant that commercial redevelopment of the World Trade Center replacing 10 million square feet of office space would have to "coexist harmoniously with the memorial itself."

Whatever was built on the site had to be architecturally ambitious. Simply replacing what was lost or replicating past approaches to city building would constitute a pallid response to human loss and physical destruction of such magnitude. The rebuilding response demanded a big, inspiring, physical presence that embodied the symbolic aspirations of American values.

If these twin mandates – to remember and rebuild – were clear in the minds of public officials, how to achieve them was not. They were competing claims. The terrorist attack created a compelling public interest that trumped prevailing property rights.

Repeatedly, the legal prerogatives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as landowner, and Larry Silverstein and his investment partnership, as owners of a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center site executed just six weeks before 9/11, were challenged by the politics of accommodating the twin mandates. Ultimately, the property rights of both stakeholders were amended. The Port Authority and Silverstein relinquished development rights on the 4.7-acre memorial quadrant, and responsibility for the development of the commercial office space was realigned. The Port Authority took on development of the iconic One World Trade Center (aka Freedom Tower) and a second tower while Silverstein took responsibility for three additional office towers.

But the process was terribly messy, terribly tangled and, at times, terribly chaotic.

Many voices: 'Who's in control?'

The decision-making arena was packed with many contending voices: elected officials, government decision-makers, private real estate interests, the families of 9/11 victims, civic leaders, preservationists and the editorial boards of the city's daily newspapers. There was no powerful rebuilding czar, a modern-day Robert Moses, who could overcome the conflicting imperatives and incessant pressures to "get things done."

The idea of a master builder was out of fashion. But also there was no overriding governance structure to set priorities among competing building ambitions, clarify the inevitable trade-offs and resolve the inevitable disputes. And that repeatedly gave rise to the question, "Who's in control?"

The ambiguity of the control issue not only created constant confusion; it weakened the public sector's position when it came to negotiating the terms of rebuilding with the private leaseholder. When government entities are not united, developers are able to exploit the fissures among government agencies to their advantage.

Tension between the political needs of the public sector and the commercial demands of the private investors permeated conflict after conflict at Ground Zero. Other tensions constantly simmered throughout the tortuous process of rebuilding: tensions between City Hall and Albany, between the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority, and between the Port Authority's two governing sides.

Pivotal factors

Rebuilding advanced in fits and starts. Public contention, even conflict, had a way of clarifying what would be politically acceptable, and "delay" gave planners and elected officials time to correct plans, reverse decisions and build coalitions of support.

By 2006, the big conflicts over what to build were settled, thanks in part to the eventual acquiescence of those involved, making continuous accommodations and adjustments throughout. By 2008, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's personal leadership assured the opening of the memorial on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and by mid-2010, the government entities and Silverstein had found a solution to the money question that had bedeviled progress on the commercial office towers.

Contrary to the narrative of delay that prevailed throughout the many years of controversy, rebuilding the emotionally charged terrain was relatively fast-paced compared with the typical two-decade timeline for big development projects to reach fruition.

Money, a lot of money – $25.5 billion, by my estimate – made a big difference in the timetable of achievement at ground zero. Billions from the federal government for recovery and rebuilding. Billions from the Port Authority for a grand transportation hub and an architectural icon for Lower Manhattan. Billions in subsidies for the timely development of private commercial office towers.

While there was a time when observers wondered whether anyone would set up shop above the ruins of a terrorist attack, One World Trade Center stands tall at 1,776 feet, anchored by media giant Condé Nast. The other towers are gaining tenants and the 100 retail shops at the complex have been opening, including a two-story Apple store. Nearly 2 million people have visited the Memorial Museum since it opened in May 2014.

After 15 years, this monumental effort – fraught by ambitions, power struggles, public dismay and constant criticism – stands as a much valued achievement, a statement of political will and public purpose. Many of the revelations here and others in my book are not part of the conventional wisdom about rebuilding.

Lower Manhattan is stronger today than ever before, the result of a constellation of social and economic trends that would not have materialized without the energy and dedication of many and the billions in public funds that made the new World Trade Center a reality.

The Conversation

Lynne B. Sagalyn is the Earle W. Kazis and Benjamin Schore Professor Emerita of Real Estate at Columbia Business School, Columbia University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

© 2016 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Can we get better at predicting earthquakes?

By Michel Campillo, Université Grenoble Alpes, and Rob van der Hilst, Massachusetts Institute of Technology   |   Aug. 26, 2016 at 1:32 PM
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An earthquake measuring 6.2 rocked central Italy in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving more than 200 dead and hundreds missing in the rubble of the disasters.

Given the devastation earthquakes cause, seismologists and public officials have long wanted to know when earthquakes will happen, and after the powerful 1964 Alaska earthquake, U.S. scientists proposed a worldwide research program on earthquake prediction.

In covering the initiative, Science magazine emphasized that "carrying out the proposal (i) would offer a fair chance to develop a method of giving warnings 'hours to days' in advance of major earthquakes and (ii) would, through engineering research, provide means of minimizing loss of life and property damage, even if a warning system were not achieved."

The public has been interested more in prediction than in mitigation, however. And in spite of major progress among scientists in understanding the earthquake process and what causes disastrous shaking, it seems there is substantial disappointment in the apparent failure of "earthquake prediction."

To some extent, this is an issue of semantics and objectives. Is the goal to predict an earthquake occurrence, predict ground motion due to an earthquake, or predict a disaster? Considering all of these, what is it that seismologists can and cannot do when it comes to predicting earthquakes?

Early warning

Fortunately, all earthquakes do not lead to disasters and, therefore, understanding where and why disasters are produced is the first goal of earthquake seismology.

But in our efforts to better predict earthquakes, we have to be precise about the timescale: is it a prediction that an earthquake is imminent – that is, within seconds, hours, or even days before the shaking? Or that it is likely to happen within years or tens of years?

Each of these predictions could be useful, and the type of action this information would lead to depends on the location of the earthquake and the sociogeographic and economic circumstances.

For example, even if one cannot predict earthquakes themselves, the ability to predict ground motion shortly after the onset of an earthquake could allow one to send warnings seconds or minutes before the main shaking is expected to occur. This means that some critical infrastructure could be automatically switched off safely, such as trains and nuclear power plants, and the public could be alerted.

How the an experimental earthquake early warning system called ShakeAlert works.

This form of early warning, produced after the earthquake (or at least after the beginning of the earthquake), is already in practice in several of the most populated and earthquake-prone places in the world.

Predicting vulnerability

The vibrations we feel during earthquakes, and which could destroy buildings and other infrastructure, are the effect of the elastic waves that propagate from the earthquake source through the rocks in the Earth's interior and along its surface. Earthquakes produce different types of waves, some more destructive than others.

These waves propagate with velocities of the order of kilometers per second, but the most damaging waves often arrive after the first waves. This means there is a time lag between the electronic signals sent by our instruments and the most damaging waves, creating opportunities for action. This field is called real-time seismology, and operational systems have been set in different regions of the world, including Japan, Italy, Mexico and California. These systems do not predict the time of occurrence but act as a warning of activity.

For long-term intervals (years to decades), geophysics provides the basis for rational management of affected resources and seismic safety. The quantitative analysis of actual earthquakes allows one to decipher the local conditions prone to disastrous shaking for specific buildings. Therefore, it provides the basis for including land management in seismic risk mitigation plans. In that sense, seismologists already provide the information required to adopt development policies oriented toward public safety.

Large improvements have been and will continue to be made, but it is difficult for the general public to appreciate the effectiveness of this approach (known as probabilistic seismic hazard analysis) because this type of "prediction" is expressed in terms of long-term probabilities, whereas the visible parts of earthquakes are the dramatic images of disasters in the news.

The public view of earthquake prediction typically concerns a deterministic (yes/no) assessment of whether or not an earthquake will happen on the intermediate timescale (hours to days). And it is precisely this field for which seismologists have not yet made definitive operational progress. The reasons for this are related to the complexity of the physical processes that cause earthquakes.

Thousand-year buildup

Earthquakes result from instabilities at locations where the resistance to slipping (the friction) of a fault is close to the forces that come from the slow plate movements of the Earth.

Although not felt in our everyday experience, the solid Earth is an evolving system. Its inner parts are subject to thermochemical convection. That is, cold and heavy materials at the surface tend to move downward and, conversely, hot material from the deep interiors moves upward, and these motions result in plate tectonics.

Typical velocity of plate motion is of the order of centimeters per year. During an earthquake, the two sides of a fault slide at velocity of the order of a meter per second – about a billion times (!) faster than the steady-state background motion.

In other words, damaging earthquakes occur in seconds but have typically been in the making for tens, hundreds or sometimes even thousands of years. The time for us to observe the Earth is so short that we have no hope of assessing with fine precision when a critical state will be reached.

Nevertheless, it has been recognized for a long time in experimental and theoretical studies that instabilities could be preceded by a change in a short time period relative to the long tectonic/geologic preparation. Such a preparatory phase, often referred to as initiation, is not systematically observed with present day geophysical methods, and one would be forgiven to think that the case is hopeless given the uncertainties about duration and amplitude of the initiation process. However, discoveries in recent years are giving a more encouraging prospective.

'Slow earthquakes'

Geodesy and seismology have seen substantial progress in detecting subtle changes in rocks below the surface. Continuous GPS recorders and advanced processing techniques allow for the detection of smaller and smaller motions. Both GPS and seismometers are increasingly deployed in large dense arrays, producing antennas with unprecedented detection capabilities.

In the past few years, these efforts have led to the discovery of new types of deformation processes. The most spectacular of these concerns the widespread observation of so-called slow earthquakes. Slow earthquakes are slipping episodes at depth with deformation velocities that are in between plate tectonic motion and regular earthquake slip.

The largest known slow earthquakes have magnitude of more than 7.5 when measured as regular earthquakes, and there is increasing evidence that, just as for regular earthquakes, slow earthquakes occur on a wide range of magnitudes. This suggests that deformation of the Earth occurs on a broad spectrum of timescales. That is, times in between the extremes of slow motions from plate tectonics and mantle convection and the ultrafast and disastrous seismic ruptures.

The newly discovered transient deformations can be studied with geodetic measurements and by a refined analysis of seismic records. These have indicated that slow deformation is accompanied by a characteristic weak grind.

There is, therefore, hope that one day we could detect and monitor extremely slight changes in the rocks that would precede earthquakes. This is, indeed, a long way from "prediction" of precisely when and where a disaster will occur, but geophysicists will persevere and continue to make new discoveries about the changing Earth.

For now, knowing earthquakes is one way to live with them, to be prepared, to know the vulnerability of our communities and to adopt sound policies for earthquake-safe environments.

The Conversation

Michel Campillo is a professor at l'Université Grenoble-Alpes, Institut universitaire de France at the Université Grenoble Alpes. Rob van der Hilst is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

© 2016 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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