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Maybe the best news about Ground Zero on this September 11th, eight years after the September 11th, is that the world no longer seems to rise and fall on what happens there. That’s good, because eight years later, so few of the promises made for the redevelopment of the site have been kept. Yes, the memorial and its related museum are progressing, slowly but surely, at high cost but reasonably close to the original design, and there is even a chance that they will be finished in 2011, in time for the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. And the huge skyscraper that, thankfully, no one any longer seems to call the Freedom Tower is rising, to almost no one’s admiration or gratitude. Now named 1 World Trade Center, it is a banal building designed, it would seem, more by security consultants than by its architect, David Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. (The fifty-two-story tower across the street from Ground Zero, called 7 World Trade Center and finished in 2006, was also designed by Childs, and is proof that he can do much better when he is left alone.)
As for the rest of the place—the office towers by Fumihiko Maki, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, the transit hub by Santiago Calatrava, and the performing arts building by Frank Gehry—almost everything is on hold, thanks to a combination of money and political problems. So is another office building by Kohn Pedersen Fox that is to replace the damaged Deutsche Bank building, whose problem-ridden demolition has taken far longer than its construction did in the early nineteen-seventies. (Then again, the whole rebuilding looks like it is going to take at least twice as long as the original World Trade Center took to build.) Nobody can agree on who is going to pay for all these office towers, which in this economy are the last thing Lower Manhattan needs. So the fighting isn’t a matter of who is going to profit from these new buildings—the state, the Port Authority, or the developer of the site, Larry Silverstein—as it is a question of who is going to bear the cost of having them empty. That’s what all the high-minded ambition for Ground Zero has come to.