A Conversation With Madelyn Wils

On Tuesday, July 16, Gotham Gazette held a live chat with Madelyn Wils, head of Community Board 1 and a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Find out what she said during our conversation as Wils fielded questions about the newly released plans for the World Trade Center site.

Gotham Gazette: We are talking to Madelyn Wils, a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which just released its six plans for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. Good afternoon, Ms. Wils. We'll start with our first question.

GG: The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation released six plans for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site this morning. What is the most important thing for the public to know about these plans?

Madelyn Wils: The most important aspect of the presentation of the six plans is that it is the beginning of a very public process. We have started with a program that is the same for each plan which are the requirements given to us from the Port Authority. These plans show different urban design using that programming initiative.

GG: Why does it have to start with requirements from the Port Authority?

MW: The Port Authority has a lease with Silverstein Properties. Silverstein has a lawsuit with his insurance companies which will determine how much he receives to rebuild. The Port Authority believes that they need to show that they will rebuild at least what was there. The WTC site also represents a large portion of their revenue stream.

GG: Now our next question: what do all six plans share?

MW: The six plans show Greenwich Street or Greenwich connecting to Washington Street running north and south through the site. They all have a large memorial that is the focus of the site. They all have a museum or cultural building on or south of the site. And they all have a transportation hub on or near the site.

GG: What do none of them have?

MW: None of them have residential. None of them have the entire street grid restored.

GG: As the only downtown resident who is a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, do you feel a special responsibility to make sure that there are plans for residences on or near the site?

MW: I believe that residences are a key component to rebuilding the community, but not unless there are sufficient necessities and amenities built as well. Right now we have no room in our schools for many additional residents, nor any community facility or enough parks and open spaces.

GG: What do the residents you represent most want to see built at the World Trade Center site?

MW: Open space was a loud cry when we had a town hall meeting, both for workers and residences. People want to see some commercial buildings. Also a memorial that will be a tribute to the place that the WTC site was in context to Lower Manhattan. Some beautiful spaces with a performance space outdoors as well as indoors with the belief that art heals. And a museum that will teach about tolerance and bring different cultures together.

GG: What about the security measures?

MW: That is an issue that is being looked into separately by hired security consultants right now. Obviously the residents are nervous about future security measures. It is my opinion that security could be an issue if there is interest in building housing on the sight.

GG: Could you explain the most important points of each of the six plans? Let's go through them one by one. First, Memorial Plaza?

MW: Memorial Plaza has a buried West Street. There is a museum on West Street. The footprints are not built on. There are tall buildings on Church Street and potential housing south of the site.

GG: Next, Memorial Square?

MW: Memorial Square has an enclosed memorial that you could view down from onto the site. Buildings are lined up on Vesey and Church. The museum is also on West Street.

GG: Moving on, what about Memorial Triangle?

MW: Memorial Triangle has buildings on Vesey and Church Street again. The memorial starts off narrow north and widens into a traingle. There is a cultural instituion or museum on one of the footprints

GG: Memorial Garden?

MW: Memorial Garden again builds on Church and Vesey Streets. The northern footprint is open space and the southern footprint is a museum. A cultural building is west of the museum.

GG: The fifth plan is Memorial Park. How is that distinct?

MW: Memorial Park actually changes the angle of the site. There is more space between building on Vesey Street. The buildings are shorter although there will be a tall monument. There is a large open space but not on the footprints that connects to West Street.

GG: And last of the plans, Memorial Promenade?

MW: Memorial Promenade has a large boulevard over a depressed West Street leading into a memorial with open space. There again, is more space between buildings and there is open space west of St. Paul's chapel leading onto the site

GG: Is there a vision for the museum/cultural institution indicated in these schemes?

MW: A vague theme is coming from comments from the public. One is an international museum that could bring art in from museums all over the world. There could be room for The Museum of the City of New York. And possibly a cultural instution that would teach about other culture and be a think tank. Also teaching about tolerance and democracy.

GG: What are the next steps in the development process?

MW: More public hearings. There will be one in September for Lower Manhattan and a review of all the materials.We will then take the time to discuss and look at these and other designs and ideas. In late fall we will put out 3 plans.

GG: Is it a mistake to rebuild all of the 11 million square feet of office space lost in the attacks, as all of the six plans propose?

MW: That will be a debate I am sure.

GG: What would you say?

MW: I am a creative person that would like to review other plans with other programming initiatives before I make my decision.

GG: How do the plans differ in cost and expected time to build?

MW: Yes they do. Particularly what we do to West St. West Street depression could cost 500 million to 2 billion depending on how long and how deep. Other plans would take longer to build but we are just reviewing that now. What you see in late fall will have the benefit of this type of thorough review.

GG: You've told us how much it may cost. But how long would it take? What's the range of time?

MW: West Street could take 3 years to more than 5.

GG: And West Street would be constructed before any of the buildings would go up there?

MW: We don't have any specific plans, but I would assume that West Street would get started along with other infrastructure.

GG: How much input did you personally have as these plans were created, and what exactly is your influence over the decisions about them?

MW: My input was on design and obviously not on the programming. I am on the site planning working group and believe that we have all given sufficient input.

GG: All the plans are called "Memorial" this or that, which implies that the memorial is what's most important to people. Is this what you've found?

MW: That is clearly what's most important to the victims families. That is done out of respect and because the memorial is the most prolific element or will be.

GG: What do you mean by "prolific element?"

MW: The focus around the world will be on the memorial and what it becomes.

GG: Governor Pataki and many victims’ family groups have asked that the physical space where the two towers stood, the "footprints," be used only for a memorial. How many of the plans do that?

MW: There are 4 plans which have the footprints with no building or a memorial building on one of them.

GG: You have said that the World Trade Center site is no Gettysburg or Normandy Beach, meaning that it's in the middle of a busy municipality. Do you feel that way about the footprints as well?

MW: I believe that since there are no bodies left on the site, the footprints are in some way symbolic. People died on that 16 acres. Body parts were found in Battery Park City, Tribeca and south of Liberty Street. This was a horific loss of life. I believe in my heart that it is more important to design a space that can hold a great memorial, than it is to necessarily not build on the footprints. If we can get a great design from not building on the footprints then fine. But I think we should stay open to all the possiblities.

GG: What do you think are the most important elements to a good design for the site?

MW: People should think about what their experience will be when they enter the site. They should know that from all directions, that its a special place. How will it look when you enter it from the north or east. What open spaces will you travel through to get to your final destination? What will your experiences be when you get there? A memorial is not just about how big but about the impact it has on you. How will the buildings that surround the memorial affect your experience?

GG: Since last fall, hundreds of imaginative and functional proposals have been submitted by architects and community planners. All six current proposals seem to fall within a fairly narrow scope of possibility--conventional office buildings with conventional uses and layouts. Is LMDC trying to think outside the box at all? This could be an amazing opportunity to transcend the commonplace, even while creating a meaningful memorial.

MW: There is no architecture being planned for now, nor any thought to who will fill it up. Right now it is about the design and prescribed programming. LMDC could think out of the box if the programming was more flexible. But that is not our deicison.

GG: Whose decision is it?, and what exactly is "programming?"

MW: I believe Governor Pataki will play a large part in that. Programming is how many square feet will be set aside for commerical, retail, transportation, cultural, hotel etc.

GG: How much possibility is there for real public participation if the "programming" is so inflexible?

MW: The design of the space still has to be determined. The public could also have strong feelings about the programming and given the current interests, how long it will take to fill that space. The public does have power to a certain extent.

GG: Do you think the public has the power to change the programming?

MW: Anything is possible. But it has to be based in reality and make sense also for the community that has to live with it everyday.

GG: How do you feel the city should commemorate the one year anniversary of Sept. 11?

MW: That is a hard one and is difficult also in that it is emotional for me to think of. I always think of the rivers. Somehere in the service I would like to have the families put out on the Hudson one candle for each victim and have it float away to commemorate the one year anniversary of the mourning. The residents are afraid that it will be a zoo down here, so we hope that whatever it is, it respects the people who live and work down here.

GG: It looks like our time is up. Thanks again, Ms. Wils, for taking this opportunity to answer everyone's questions.

MW: Thanks. It's been fun!


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