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9/11 Memorial Fails As Public Space, 'Doesn't Feel Like' NYC

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Now that the fencing around it is mostly down, Times archicritic Michael Kimmelman has been paying the 9/11 Memorial lots of visits in an effort to assess its effectiveness as a public space in a formerly blighted Financial District—rather than its "official" use as a massive commemorative park and monument for a tragic event. In short, he finds, he's "not sure it's working." There are several reasons for this, and here are a few:

1) There are a lot of cops. They're friendly but their presence is definitely known.

2) Tourists and tour groups dominate—in fact, Kimmelman feels the space was designed more for them than for New Yorkers, even as the area is supposed to serve double- (or even triple-) duty "as the forecourt for an office development and as public space for Lower Manhattan. The neighborhood was a casualty, too, along with the rest of New York."

3) The memorial plaza's layout isn't super-conducive or inviting, given that the western edge of it abuts West Street—with no separation—which is basically a multilane highway. Not so much with mood-setting, there.

4) Here's the deal with the trees, grass, and general layout: "Peter Walker, the landscape architect, conceived a somber geometry of spare strips of grass, mostly at the corner where the memorial empties toward West Street. The strips thwart the natural flow of pedestrian traffic diagonally across the area. They align below military ranks of trees. Mr. Walker is an excellent designer, but it's hard to imagine a more formal, less happy arrangement to dictate behavior."

5) "Even the seating is severe: square concrete blocks, low, backless, as if comfort violated the sanctity of the place."

6) Lots of things are banned there. No garbage cans; no vendors; no singing. "[N]o recreation, no loud noise, no 'behaving in a way that is inappropriate.'"

Caveat: Kimmelman notes that his assessment of how the memorial stacks up as public space may rub victims' families and others affected by the attacks the wrong way, but he tried to pre-emptively justify his own take that the space can be "for the living" as well as for the venerated dead, and serve a greater, richer function for more parts of the city.
· Finding Space for the Living at a Memorial [NYT]
· 123 Photos Inside the 9/11 Museum on Somber Opening Day [Curbed]
· All World Trade Center Redevelopment coverage [Curbed]