Do memorial first at Ground Zero


I had the privilege of participating in "Listening to the City" on Saturday, when thousands of people debated the future of Ground Zero.

Before the meeting, I was troubled by the lack of sensitivity to the spiritual and historical aspects of the site reflected in the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and Port Authority's six proposals.

But my faith in the decency of people was restored when the attendees resoundingly rejected all the plans and challenged the agencies' headlong rush to restore 11 million feet of commercial office space.

The corporation and PA underestimated the impact this site has on the hearts and souls of people. Their six designs were cluttered and fortresslike. They lacked vision and an inspirational treatment of the skyline. Some plans even suggested that it was acceptable to cover over the footprints of the World Trade Center towers.

Most of us at Saturday's event understood that what we do with the site will be judged by history and the world. The message the audience delivered was that we have an obligation to get this thing right for those who died, as well as for those who will live and work in the area.

The starting point of the redevelopment process must begin with the memorial. Only then should plans be developed for the structures that will extend outward from that essential core. The memorial cannot be an afterthought.

Very few people are aware that the thousands of unidentified remains eventually will be moved to and interred at Ground Zero. For hundreds of families, the site will be the only tangible link to their loved ones. This is why it's so critical to maintain its dignity and sacredness.

None of us would choose these circumstances for our loved ones. But we have learned to bear what fate has dealt us. Those in charge of planning shouldn't add to our pain by implying that what happened was some kind of unpleasantness to be avoided or disguised.

For example, consider the effect of a restored street grid - running Greenwich and Fulton Sts. through the site - and ask yourself whether a traffic island would be a proper resting place for those who died that day.

Here's an alternative: Let an international design competition for the memorial begin Sept. 11. By Jan. 1, we'd have the proposals, and then planning for the rest of the acreage could begin.

To Gov. Pataki and New Jersey's Gov. Jim McGreevey, who oversee the PA, I say this: Listen to the voices that were raised Saturday. Slow the process and do it right. We have time.

Eckert, whose husband, Sean Rooney, died in Tower 2, is co-chairwoman of Voices of Sept. 11, a member of the Coalition of 9/11 Families