As the 9/11 memorial jury prepares to sort through design applications for the international memorial competition, I continue think about what I want the memorial to be. While I have no specific physical vision - I leave that to those with the creative ability to turn concepts into reality - I have been contemplating three questions: What are we memorializing? Who is the memorial for? What should the memorial mean for future generations? My answers to these questions are inevitably influenced by my own biases and experiences, which include witnessing the first plane hit the north tower and remaining at my home in Tribeca throughout the aftermath of 9/11.
What are we memorializing?
I believe that we are memorializing a moment in time - a moment when the unthinkable happened; a moment that touched and brought together the entire world community. This transformative moment necessarily and appropriately focuses on those who lost their lives that day and what their sacrifice can teach those of us who survived and those who will come after us.
Who is the memorial for?
9/11 was not a local event: it resonated across borders and cultures and the entire world reached out to help. As horrible as it was, 9/11 demonstrated that we are truly one interconnected and interdependent global community. Thus, the memorial cannot belong to any one individual or group of individuals. The memorial should be a legacy for everyone throughout the world.
What should the memorial mean for future generations?
Whatever is built - or not built - on the World Trade Center site will inevitably acquire meaning and symbolic value. For me, the meaning of the memorial should be community. 9/11 was a shared experience that bound us together in many overlapping and distinct communities. They include those who lost their lives that day, the community of families and friends of those who died, the community of those who lived and worked in lower Manhattan, the city itself, the country, and the entire world.
Those of us who lived below Canal Street and elected not to evacuate after 9/11 discovered a very special sense of community in the weeks immediately following the attacks. We gathered on street corners to hold vigils and sing old songs. Those who had electricity, or phones, or hot water opened their homes to those who did not. We entered into intimate conversations with those who, heretofore, were only nodding acquaintances. The experience of coming together as a community in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy rekindled my belief in the possibility of creating a better world: a world that has learned that violence only begets violence and hate begets hate.
My dream is that the memorial will convey the possibility of this better world and hold it up as an attainable idea. As the memorial mission statements says so well, "May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire and end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance."
In many ways, the World Trade Center was the center of lower Manhattan before 9/11. Now it is forever our physical and spiritual heart and one that, I believe, can and should be shared with the rest of the world. The memorial can be a place where people come to learn what it means to be part of a world community and gain personal resolve to make the world a better place.
Three criteria could serve as guidelines in creating such a memorial: it needs to be accessible; connected, and integrated.
The memorial must be accessible, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It should go without saying that the memorial needs to be accessible to all regardless of physical or mental abilities. It needs to be hospitable to strangers and those without prior knowledge of 9/11. This being New York City, accessibility necessarily includes being pedestrian friendly and promoting public transportation as the best way to get to and fro. I don't think accessibility necessarily requires bringing the memorial to street level, as some have suggested. Given that Daniel Liebskind's design for the site, with the memorial 30 feet below street level, was chosen, I see that as the starting point and any significant changes should be consistent with the overall intent.
Accessibility also entails enabling those who visit the memorial to get in touch with the emotions of the day and their own heart. And it should be possible for visitors to connect with the larger, spiritual meanings of 9/11 without the distractions of specific religious symbols or practices.
An effective memorial will connect the past, present, and future and can also serve to bridge differences between individuals and communities. From a very parochial perspective, my hope is that the memorial somehow connects the surrounding neighborhoods, since the World Trade Center site is the hub that connects Battery Park City, South Greenwich, the Financial District and Tribeca.
Even more important, however, is building connections that bridge and promote understanding of cultural, racial, and ethnic differences, which all to frequently lead to suspicion, hate, and violence. To do this, the memorial must provide connections to those who died by telling their stories - their deaths have meaning that must not be forgotten. The most important connection and ultimate indicator of success, however, will be creating the memory links that help future generations understand and make sense of this experience. The memorial needs to build connections to those yet to be born and help them have a direct connection with 9/11.
My personal hope is that the memorial becomes an integrated and inspirational part of the neighborhood and the fabric of New York City. Without diminishing the importance of dedicated space for remembrance and contemplation, I think that an effective memorial should be an integral part of daily life, much as the grounds at Trinity Church are. Furthermore, I believe that the entire site - not just the "formal" memorial - should be a tribute to those who perished on 9/11 and to those who lived through the experience. For me, this means creating a vibrant, livable, dynamic, mixed-use community that incorporates the lessons of 9/11 and serves as a model for what it might look like to end hatred and ignorance and promote peace. This community should be a model for sustainable development, have buildings that exceed all current safety standards, and respect the fact that people make a city - and the world - thrive and be successful.
Ultimately, the memorial needs to recognize and reconcile the needs and concerns of everyone involved - those who live and work downtown, those who died on 9/11 and their families, those who come to visit and learn from this tragedy, and the entire global community. Because the World Trade Center site has acquired an important symbolic value to the entire world, the importance of what is done there cannot be overstated. My hope is that both the process and the end product channel our passions in ways that foster community in its true sense, globally and locally. The memorial should provide ways to incorporate the lessons of 9/11 as we discover new ways to live together.
Tim Lannan has lived and worked in Tribeca since 1994 and is an active member of several local organizations, including Manhattan Community Board 1 and Neighbors Against N.O.I.S.E.
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Last Updated (Mar 15, 2012)