Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Proposal for Ground Zero

Today it was announced (free registration required) that, almost four years after terrorists destroyed the most visible symbols of American commerce, the signature building planned for that sacred ground is again on hold. Having just read the harrowing 102 Minutes, believe me when I say that I have no quarrels with the stated cause of the delay, security concerns. What I do have a problem with is that we are having this conversation now, still, four years later. In the timespan of America's entire 'official' participation in World War II, we have not even broke ground; hell, we haven't even signed off on the plan!

Where do I get the nerve to say we? After all, Larry Silverstein has the lease, the Port Authority owns the land, I'm not on the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and I don't even live in New York State, much less NYC itself.

I say we because it is we that own that land. Ground Zero is now as much a part of every American as the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg, the majestic Grand Canyon, or the breathtakingly solemn Lincoln Memorial. For better or worse, our national identity is contained in every square inch of that ground. We own it, all of us, New Yorker or not, and we own it in a more fundamental way than mere dollars can convey.

So let's make it official. Let's buy it, all of us, and take Silverstein and the insurance companies off the hook. Real estate experts are questioning the need for office space in that part of Manhattan, and security concerns are causing potential tenants to shy away from even being near the new site. The current redevelopment plan envisions a cost of $12 billion. Silverstein is owed $4.6 billion by the insurance companies. They've payed him $1.9 billion.

So we give the insurers an even $2 billion for their troubles, $3 billion to Silverstein (he'll be quite happy, I suspect), and spend another $7 billion converting the area into the 9/11 Memorial National Park. The War in Iraq will probably cost $200 billion, at least, before all is said and done. I'm not saying it isn't worth it; I believe it is. $12 billion is not a lot of money in an economy the size of the United States. In fact, if we divide that by a low estimate of 200 million taxpayers, it's $60 a pop. $60, to make this holy ground a sanctuary for generations to come.

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