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A Conversation With Alexander Garvin

by Gotham Gazette Staff, Feb 23, 2004
 

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 11, Gotham Gazette held a live chat with Alex Garvin, lead planner of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Find out what he said during our conversation as Garvin fielded questions from readers about rebuilding.

Gotham Gazette: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for coming to Gotham Gazette’s first live chat event. Our guest today is Alex Garvin, the lead planner for the rebuilding effort at the World Trade Center site. Good afternoon, Mr. Garvin.

Alex Garvin: Good afternoon!

GG: We’ll start with our first question. Mr. Garvin, your title is the Vice President for Planning, Design and Development of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What exactly is your job? What are you responsible for? What aren't you responsible for?

AG:I go to meetings, live and online. I answer the telephone. I sign my name and make decisions. But actually, I have to coordinate the participation of all the stakeholders in Lower Manhattan so that the decisions that are taken and the structures that go up will provide a proper remembrance of the events of 9/11; restore Lower Manhattan as quickly as possible; and trigger the revival of Lower Manhattan. I'm not responsible for actually building and neither is the LMDC.

GG: So what is the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation responsible for?

AG:Our mission is rememberance, restoration and revitalization for the entire area south of Houston

GG: Alex Butziger, from Hamburg, Germany, and "tbarzilai" say they want to see the twin towers rebuilt as they were. In fact, in the latest New York Times/CBS poll, twenty-five percent of New Yorkers say they want buildings on the site at least as tall as the twin towers. Is there any possibility of this happening?

AG:New York is a city of possibilities, and our job is to ensure that the most wonderful possibilities happen.

GG: Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff said there is "zero chance" of this happening.

AG:The residents of the New York metropolitan area want their skyline back. How we restore a presence on that skyline remains to be seen, but restore a presence on that skyline we will.

GG: In the New York Times poll, another twenty-six percent say they want the entire site as a memorial, which is what some victims' families say. Is there any chance of that happening?

AG:We are going to rebuild New York in a way which recognizes the events of 9/11, but that rebuilding has to be great. We are holding a public event at the Javits Center on July 20 to receive more public input on alternatives for the site. We will also be holding public hearings through the fall, to hear the public's ideas.

GG: The people who asked this question want to know if a memorial taking up all sixteen acres has been ruled out.

AG:It isn't a matter of size, it's a matter of appropriately honoring the victims, the survivors, the rescuers and the families of all three.

GG: What rebuilding project in history or in the world comes closest to the rebuilding after September 11th, and what lessons can we learn from it?

AG:Rebuilding downtown Warsaw after World War II. The choices that the people of Poland made had a symbolic aspect. They said they would not permit the Nazis to determine what happened in their city. We will not permit criminals to determine what happens in our city.

GG: Everybody agrees the process of rebuilding should involve public participation. But it isn't clear what that actually means - how much this is just lip service, and how much the public will really be involved.

AG:We at the LMDC are dedicated to listening to everybody -- we want the best ideas, and we will work with the Port Authority and all our partners to see whether those ideas are feasible, and affordable, and if they are -- we will present them to the public for comment.

GG: The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation held a public hearing in late May. What did you learn from that public hearing? Did anything surprise you?

AG:We learned that the overwhelming bulk of people who came wanted something great. I had been going to public meetings for a long time. I don't surprise easily. What impressed me was the intensity of feeling. People really care.

GG: There is so much emotion involved in this rebuilding, this is so important to so many people. Can this project meet expectations?

AG:We are going to do our best to see that the very highest expectations are realized. One of our Principles For Action is to promote sustainability and excellence in design. We issued these Principles in March and they will guide the action's of the LMDC. After receiving public input on the Principles and Blueprint during the last few months, we will be issuing the final version this month.

GG: Erma asks: Can a great work of architecture be built in an "open and inclusive process?" or does New York need a Robert Moses, a kind of "czar for rebuilding," for this project?

AG:Central Park was built by New Yorkers in an open public process.

GG: In your previous edition of The American City: What Works, What Doesn't, you say that there are six ingredients for the success of any project. You label them market, location, design, financing, entrepreneurship, and time. Could you go through those, and explain how they apply to the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. Let's start with market

AG: The second edition, revised and expanded, will be published later this month -- I hope everyone goes out and buys it! On to the market: Our goal is to increase the size of the market served by Lower Manhattan, and that means we need to increase accessibility by ferry, by subway, by rail, so that more people can come to Lower Manhattan.

Now I'll speak about location: Lower Manhattan is blessed by an extraordinary waterfront. One of the things we need to do is to improve accessibility to the waterfront and to provide the maximum number of water-related activities for the people who come to the waterfront.

Now design: Design is not a matter of style. Styles come and go. We have to rebuild Lower Manhattan for the ages. The aspects of design that are important have to do with the arrangement of the components in Lower Manhattan. That means, that where we put additional train or subway service has a great impact on the surrounding properties, so we must be careful in arranging the different public investments that will be made. In addition, we need a great public realm. The buildings that will be built, will be built on this public realm framework. That realm consists of mass transit, streets, squares, parks, bicycle trails, walks...all the places that attract the public.

On to finance. We are very lucky that the President of the US has committed more that $21 billion to the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan - without this we would be in serious trouble. There will be insurance proceeds that can be used to help finance the rebuilding. From the money from Washington, we are already providing assistance to families and individuals iving in Lower Manhattan. As a result, the vacancy rates in Battery Park City and the rest of lower Manhattan have dropped precipitously.

I keep hearing about Robert Moses, who was a great entrepreneur. He had partners, including Mayor Laguardia. Everyone forgets that entreprenuership involves coordinating and inspiring great numbers of people The LMDC, in particular Lou Tomson, our President, is doing his best in inspiring the stakeholders and making it possible for us to use the money from Washington intelligently.

Finally, there is time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Lower Manhattan will not be rebuilt in a year. We must proceed as quickly as possible, but we cannot sacrifice greatness. That's why we are starting by restoring subway service. The 1-9 train will be functioning by November '01, and the PATH train will be operational by the fourth quarter of 2003. We are beginning with infrastructure. The same is true of our work to see that Con Edison could rebuild its power station by the middle of 2003. These are the beginnings of what will be a long term process, and we are very aware of the need for speed.

GG: mumford asks: How do you expect the plans will address areas like Chinatown and Lower East Side?

AG:We've already announced grants to residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. We are devoting most of our attention these first few months to the site of the World Trade Center. As the months go by, we will be working with the residents to create the kind of programs that are suited to those historic neighborhoods.

That was a good question.

GG: Michael Kuo asks: How will you open up and connect the various train lines without tearing down businesses around Ground Zero?

AG:Well, Michael, we don't have to because as we speak the 1-9 is being rebuilt. And there are no residences or businesses anywhere near it. The same is true of the PATH station.

GG: What about the area on Broadway between Fulton and John Streets? A New York Post article mentioned the possibility of having to raze that block to build a transportation hub.

AG:We wrote in our Blueprint that we would examine four possible locations for the PATH station and/or a transit hub. This July, we will be issuing materials that will explain the cost and time involved in each of those alternatives.

GG: nivel asks how PATH rebuilding will not have an impact on Greenwich Village.

AG:I don't understand the question -- Greenwhich Village is a long way from the station.

GG: There is a large protest -- signs in store windows etc. -- about the rebuilding of the PATH train on Christopher Street, and how it will demolish some historic buildings in the neighborhood.

AG:I am not familiar with this situation, but will try to understand what the protest is about.

GG: Is a downtown transportation hub a bigger priority than a project like the Second Avenue subway?

AG:The Second Avenue subway is underway. The transit hub is a proposal. I read the Lexington Ave subway every day -- no one can tell me that the Second Avenue subway is not a priority! Ride, that is!

GG: megalopolis asks: what types of new businesses does Mr. Garvin hope to attract to Lower Manhattan? Is there anything that can be done to attract those specific businesses and industries?

AG:There are a lot of cultural institutions that would like to move to Lower Manhattan that could bring a good deal of activity and charm. They also supply customers at times that there are fewer people working in Lower Manhattan. I think we need a wider variety of retail businesses.

GG: What kinds of businesses?

AG:As I said, a wider variety of retail businesses and cultural attractions.

GG: Some in our audience have questions about specific ideas for the site. Can you comment on some of these?

AG:Yes

GG: One of the ideas reportedly drawn up by Larry Silverstein’s architect is a 110-story tower with the top 40 floors as an empty glass space

AG:I have read about this, but have not seen the proposal, and I never comment on things I haven't seen.

GG: Another idea: Charles Schumer has called for the United Nations downtown

AG:I have heard of this proposal and we're looking into it.

GG: Yet another: Hillary Clinton would like to see a biotech research center

AG:I have also heard of this proposal, and it is under consideration. In our Blueprint, point number 14 calls for the development of Lower Manhattan as a center for biotech companies coordinated with the city's many medical research centers, medical schools and hospitals.

GG: Will a large shopping mall be included?

AG:Westfield Corp leased the retail component of the World Trade Center and they have proposals of this sort. As I said before, we need a greater variety of retail businesses in Lower Manhattan, this is one way to get them.

GG: Everyone says they want to build something "great" downtown. As one member of the audience, John K, asks, what is "greatness?"

AG:Well, John, I bet your notion of greatness is different from your neighbor's. However, we will all know it when we see it.

GG: When and where have you seen greatness?

AG:I grew up in Central Park -- that is greatness.

GG: Now our last question: briggy asks, How will the public be able to continue to have input into the plans as things move forward?

AG: Well, as I mentioned earlier, we are co-sponsoring an event on July 20. It will be held in the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and will use interactive technologies and face-to-face dialogue to consider plans for the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. To register for the Listening To The City event, please call 1-800-862-3154 or visit http://www.listeningtothecity.org. Thank you - this was fun.

GG: Thank you, Mr. Garvin. It looks like our time is up. Thanks again, Mr. Garvin, for taking this opportunity to answer everyone’s questions. Thanks to everyone else who participated in the chat. If you have a question that was not answered during today’s chat, please email it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and we will pass it along to our guest. A transcript of this chat will be available online later today.

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