Reality Check Arrives at Ground Zero

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In case you thought the rebuilding at the World Trade Center site was going along as planned, a long overdue and candid letter released this week from the Port Authority of NY & NJ is your dose of reality.

Since the attacks of 9/11, public officials (mostly former during Governor Pataki’s administration), created a mirage of productive activity at the 16 acres of Ground Zero. What the project needed from the get-go was fewer cooks and one stalwart chef in the kitchen.  Some of us had hoped Governor Spitzer would step up to the plate and ask tough questions like why there’s such a massive amount of subsidized office space planned, but he too caved and since his stay in the state capital was cut short, we’ll never know what long term impact his role might have had.

Now, Gov. Paterson has asked THE tough question about the redevelopment of the 16 acres at Ground Zero by requesting (gasp!) an assessment. Paterson’s willingness to confront the challenges of the rebuilding, (and one of the worst kept secrets in town) are a breath of fresh air and include: the unmanageable size of the project, the “unique interdependencies” (I guess that’s the nice way to say political interests), increased costs and the “doh!” moment was “lack of an effective decision making process.”

Of course the decision making process was ineffective – in large part because it was unaccountable. GJNY and others cautioned early on and regularly that unless transparency and accountability were improved in Lower Manhattan, the development could have a negative impact – mostly on low and moderate income residents and workers.  We weren’t wrong (unfortunately) as billions of dollars in Federal resources were allocated in Lower Manhattan to financial firms and luxury housing developers helping to make it one of the city’s ritziest neighborhoods.

The head of the Port Authority, Chris Ward, deserves credit for giving the Governor an honest critique of what has become an embarrassment.

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