It seemed altogether fitting and proper to visit the site of a great battlefield of the War on Terror on Memorial Day, a day first conceived of and dedicated to the proposition that all Civil War fallen should be honored. The battle that rages is how to rebuild the site: replace the office space, return the city street life to the area, add a monument to the fallen? A few minutes in the site make it clear that dedicating a new memorial would not consecrate nor hallow this site any more than the fallen already have by their great devotion to duty. The site is a monument to industry, and is already showing the signs of returning to its former state.
This Memorial Day was gray, the site a sullen concrete color, the tourists subdued. Walking to the site required passing a number of sidewalk stalls selling cheezy souvenirs. For the most part, the tourists seem to huddle together, largely warming themselves at a convenient Starbucks across the street from the site, or grouping in front of the several panels listing the many brave firemen who lost the lives.
The most notable monument already erected was not these panels to the dead but a terminal for the living - the exit from the PATH trains, running again. The terminal seemed hastily erected in a style from the time of the New York World's Fair of 1964, when the future looked bright and the World Trade Center was first conceived. The terminal opens under sweeping metallic girders, and adds a chrome veneer to the otherwise industrial dust that marks the area. Surrounding the site is a metallic fence, and inside is a large squarish hole composed mostly the residue of (de)construction, more concrete dust and a bit of dirt here and there. Shining out of the pit are the silver train tracks - whether due to being newly laid or because the former tracks had never burned under the midday sun nor felt the rusting rain, they gleamed. The path of industry had already reclaimed the site, and was shining as bright as hope to those who make there way into the city each day.
Framing the site are buildings on all four sides, silent watchmen on this holiday. Their empty glass windows reflected the gray atmosphere, sometimes appropriately framed in the trendy black of a number of downtown skyscrapers. Looming most impressively is an old concrete-faced building - the West Street switching center for Verizon. The building is one of the oldest and largest switching centers of the former Bell System, and it sits at the edge of Ground Zero. On 9/11, the building took its lumps from the falling debris, but appears to have weathered them better than the more modern WTC 7 building next to it, a testament to how these switching centers were built in the first place - ruggedized to keep running in a disaster. In this Mother of All Disasters, over 2 million circuits were knocked out - the many circuits serving the financial center of Wall Street and from it the World. Within a week, most were restored. This is one of the most impressive - and largely unsung - efforts of many dedicated people during the harrowing days that followed the collapse. The telecom workers strung shiny new fiber loops through the dust and debris, braving the toxic air and the utter confusion that marked the area. Even before commuters were back riding the rails of steel, bits were riding the rails of light, and the business of business began anew.
The walk around the fence brings one by a hotel back in business - the Millenium (sic), aptly named to mark the turn of the calendar past 2000 - and a hotel that will be forever shut, the World Trade Center Marriott, a place many of us remember from our prior visits to those buildings. One then crosses the street in an overpass to the World Financial Center, a more modernistic structure built on landfill under the shadow of the taller WTC buildings. Even on this holiday, these buildings showed activity and life inside, with just a few bothering to catch the views of the gap in the ground across the street. If the city can claim new building space from the Hudson River, one wonders of the need to rebuild all the lost office space from the WTC site. But the flow of industry crosses between the two sites. A people-mover pathway was soon to open, providing yet a third silvery conduit for commerce to quickly pass from the river area through the site by the phone building to the PATH terminal.
The firemen deserve their monument, to let future passers-by on Memorial Day reflect on what it means to serve the general welfare. Especially in this place! This is all the more fitting and proper as the demands of business will require a silver-and-glass monument to industry to be built - more office space designed to give no time to reflect on the past but strive for the future. Let us hope and pray that the two monuments will be built in such a way to allow a return of city life to the site, so color will grow on the silver and concrete foundation. Even cheezy sidewalk vendors are more interesting than silent concrete steps.