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Politics, Not Buildings, Fill World Trade Center Void

Construction cranes stand last month on the site of the World Trade Center in New York.
Timothy A. Clary
AFP/Getty Images
Construction cranes stand last month on the site of the World Trade Center in New York.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and developer Larry Silverstein, who faced a court-ordered Friday deadline to come up with a new schedule to rebuild the site of the World Trade Center, asked for more time to reach a resolution.

Work is under way on the first of what eventually may be five office towers, a memorial, related buildings and cultural facilities. Most of the major work has stalled, however.

Paul Goldberger, architecture critic of The New Yorker and author of Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York, tells NPR's Robert Siegel that what is being built is the same as what stood on ground zero before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: mostly offices.


"The main thing though that's been built over the last few years has been a huge underground infrastructure," Goldberger says. "So there's been an enormous amount of work done that nobody will ever see, way below ground."

The heart of the problem is financing: Who will pay for the project? Silverstein, the developer, says he can't get private financing, which Goldberger attributes to no demand for more office space in the area. Silverstein wants more public money for the project, but the Port Authority is reluctant.

"The Port Authority says, 'We ... may have built the original World Trade Center, but we really wanted to get out of the office building business,' " Goldberger says. "What money we have we should be putting into fixing bridges and tunnels and things like that, which, I have to say, is not a bad position."

The dispute has spread into the political realm, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asking more flexibility from the Port Authority and the editorial board of The New York Times advocating against such a move.

Goldberger says the dispute spilled over into the naming of his own book. He originally wanted to call it Architecture, Politics and the Rebuilding of New York, but his editors made him flip the order of the words "politics" and "architecture" because it's mostly a tale of politics.


"Sadly," Goldberger said, "nine years later, that's still the case.

"The only good side of all of this, I must say, is that in the years immediately after 9/11, we all felt that the entire future of New York would rise or fall based on what happened at ground zero. In fact, these 16 acres turned out not to affect the city as much as we'd thought.

"New York came back after 9/11 in a pretty healthy way in spite of that 16-acre problem in the middle of it that remains such a serious problem."

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