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Architects criticize W.T.C. security plan

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Architects criticize W.T.C. security plan

| architecture | April 04, 2012

Architect and Battery Park City resident Jordan Gruzen speaking at Community Board 1’s full board meeting on March 27, in opposition to the NYPD’s planned barricades and street closures around the W.T.C.

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

Jordan Gruzen, partner in the award-winning firm of Gruzen Samton Architects, doesn’t often make an appearance at Community Board 1 meetings, but he felt strongly enough about the N.Y.P.D.’s proposed World Trade Center security plan to show up at C.B. 1’s full board meeting on March 27 to speak against the plan.

Gruzen is co-chair of New York New Visions, a coalition of 21 architecture, planning and design organizations that first met a week after 9/11 in a pro bono effort to address the issues surrounding the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. At the Community Board meeting, Gruzen said he was speaking on behalf of New York New Visions.

“We are very concerned that the World Trade Center plan that has taken thousands of hours of individuals’ input to make it a vital, beautiful and fabulous urban place that people visit from all around the world, not be spoiled,” he said.

He referenced the Police Headquarters plaza, which his firm designed, and called conditions there “atrocious.” After 9/11 it was barricaded and blocked off from vehicle access.

“It’s a vital piece of the city that’s been allowed to fall into disrepair and we don’t want that to happen to the World Trade Center. There’s too much thought [put into it] and it’s too central to our culture and to our city’s vitality.”

In a telephone conversation after the Community Board meeting, Gruzen elaborated.

He said that for years, the members of New York New Visions had been privy to the plans for the World Trade Center site and had played an important role in formulating them.  “We were treated as trusted confidantes who would put our best minds at it,” he said,  “and we had some of the best names in the New York professional offices – notable architects who have a lot of integrity. At this point, we’ve been pushed aside and told [by the N.Y.P.D.] ‘it’s our decision. It’s our decision alone.’”

Gruzen said that New York New Visions concurred with Community Board 1, which has drafted a resolution spelling out the ways in which the proposed security plan would create unacceptable logistic problems for residents and businesses in the World Trade Center vicinity.

There would be checkpoints around a “superblock” and streets connecting the World Trade Center site with the rest of Manhattan would be essentially closed to traffic.

“The taxi drivers have said this isn’t going to work,” Gruzen said. “Lower Manhattan won’t be serviced the way it should be. There will be backups. I think the N.Y.P.D. is trying to be very responsible. I think they feel an obligation to the country and to the world. But the way they’ve interpreted that responsibility is having a consequence.”

Gruzen said that the members of New York New Visions did not have enough information at this point to make specific recommendations as to what should be done. “We need all the facts and we need to be treated as insiders,” he said. “We have been, for 10 years. Lately it’s been more and more difficult to access information and data, so one naturally draws the conclusion that the game is being played by the strictest and most extreme rules. That might be O.K. or it might not be. I don’t think we have the answer. All we’re saying is that with something as serious as this, we ask for a citizens’ design board to participate and be trusted and be allowed to at least express ourselves and hopefully find solutions that might lead to a ‘reasonable’ amount of risk in a high security area.”

Community Board 1 has a similar agenda. “We’ve asked for the creation of a citizens’ advisory committee so that we can work with [the N.Y.P.D.] as the study is being done to make sure that they consider the things that concern us,” said Michael Levine, director of planning and land use for Community Board 1. “If we wait for publication of the final draft Environmental Impact Statement, we have no idea what they will consider. They could ignore everything we’ve said.”

C.B. 1 chairman Julie Menin concurred. “Technically, we don’t have a right to block the plan but I think we’ve been able to show at Community Board 1 for many years that when we have an idea, and we make a lot of noise, we can get things done,” she said. “This is our time. Now is our time to try to change the plan.”

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After working at various design practices on a full-time and freelance basis, and starting his own design firm, David McFadden saw that there was a gap to be filled in the industry. In 1984, he created an expansive hub for architects and hiring firms to sync up, complete projects, and mutually benefit. That hub was Consulting For Architects Inc., which enabled architects to find meaningful design work, while freeing hiring firms from tedious hiring-firing cycles. This departure from the traditional, more rigid style of employer-employee relations was just what the industry needed - flexibility and adaption to modern work circumstances. David has successfully advised his clients through the trials and tribulations of four recessions – the early 80’s, the early 90’s, the early 2000’s, and the Great Recession of 2007.

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