Ground Zero will be rebuilt. By 2012, perhaps. That’s the date the newly reconciled powers-that-be have picked as their goal. Port Authority vice-chairman Charles Gargano bristles at the suggestion that nothing has happened yet—it’s just that most of the work has been underground. “You need consensus on everything. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘If you don’t have consensus, you don’t get anything done,’ ” says Gargano. Construction has begun on Santiago Calatrava’s transit hub and what is now the Port Authority’s Freedom Tower. There are no design changes under the new setup, but the mayor’s suggestion of moving the memorial museum inside the bunkerlike lobby is being studied. By the end of 2007, the bathtub will also be completed, allowing Larry Silverstein to get started with towers two, three, and four. Tower five, off the site, will likely be sold to a residential developer. Frank Gehry’s performing-arts center and the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta’s $80 million visitor center are floating somewhere in the ether, with fund-raising stalled.
Meanwhile, down on the ground with the mortals, north and south but mostly east of ground zero, downtown is rebuilding itself, thank you very much. And not as Wall Street. As the West Village, cobblestone streets, designer condos, quirky cultural institutions, waterfront esplanade, and all. At the top of Fulton Street, Calatrava’s stegasaurian (not soaring) PATH station and Grimshaw Architects’ Fulton transit hub will make elegant work of downtown’s tangle of trains. Commuters, tourists, and residents will pour out of the 21st-century stations. To the west will lie the memorial and the three-block retail corridor the Port Authority plans along Church Street. Workers in towers two, three, and four will enter off the side streets to provide maximum frontage to the upscale retail. To the east lies Manhattan’s new family neighborhood with Fulton as its Main Street. “Lower Manhattan is the fastest-growing residential area in the city right now,” says outgoing Economic Development Corporation president Andrew Alper. “It will go from 23,000 residents to 46,000—double—by 2008. By 2030, the number we are using is roughly 80,000 people. That’s a pretty good-sized city in most parts of the world.”
Thirty-eight million dollars from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will widen the sidewalks, restore façades, plant trees, and upgrade parks. The EDC would like to see apartments above the storefronts and wants to make it easier to combine the tiny shops into larger cafés, non-chain stores, maybe even a supermarket. Should they get built, Calatrava’s 80 South Street and Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower—two blocks north of Fulton—will provide the starchitect quotient, as will (probably) André Balazs’s 15 William Street. A condo conversion with interiors by Armani Casa is in the works, and Phillipe Starck has finished another.
The social and cultural center of the new neighborhood should be at South Street Seaport, where major renovations are planned by new owners General Growth Properties. Beyer Blinder Belle is redesigning the area to emphasize its incredible site and historic architecture, with, according to plans, greater east-west connections, a cultural tenant, and retail that reflects the new domestic population of the neighborhood. North of Pier 17, a shed that used to be part of the Fulton Fish Market has been selected by the exiled Drawing Center as its new location. The Drawing Center could be the northernmost point of a miniature cultural district. The snazzy, ultracontemporary East River Waterfront Park (almost two miles long and designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership, SHoP, and Ken Smith Landscape Architects) will start on the Lower East Side and sweep around the bottom of the island to the Battery Maritime Building (which is the gorgeous Beaux-Arts depot for an aerial tram to Governors Island). The underside of the FDR Drive becomes the illuminated roof for a series of multiuse pavilions, and, cleaned up, is a place to shelter from rain and sun. In this plan, the piers themselves gain topography, split-level ramps, and lawns that serve as picnic areas and viewing platforms.
Buy your lunch at the food market the EDC would like to see in the historic market stalls and embark on a two-borough, one-island excursion. “I really see the East River waterfront, Governors Island, and Brooklyn Bridge Park operating as a network,” says City Planning chair Amanda Burden. “You could have lunch in East River Park, go kayaking in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and maybe a cultural activity on Governors Island, all in a day.”