Families of September 11 victims and residents of Battery Park City—the community adjacent to the World Trade Center—brought strikingly different priorities and viewpoints to public discussions of memorials in lower Manhattan, sociologist Gregory Smithsimon chronicles in his new book, September 12: Community and Neighborhood Recovery at Ground Zero (Sept., NYU Press). The resulting conflict, he observes, revealed that residents “saw their difficulties as distinct from those suffered, for instance, by the families of both civilians and rescue workers killed in the towers, and could neither accord space for other sufferers, nor find common ground in which to recover.”
“Residents felt strongly that the needs of people who lived and worked downtown were being overlooked, while public attention focused on the desire to grandly memorialize the event and the needs of families who had lost loved ones,” notes Smithsimon, an assistant professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, who analyzed discussion of both government-backed memorial plans and those constructed by individuals. “Residents’ sense that they were being ignored while relatives of the victims received greater attention [produced] more explicit tensions as the planning process for the main Trade Center site continued.”
Smithsimon acknowledges that the proximity of proposed September 11 memorials brought a challenge that others have not faced, which helped fuel the conflict between residents and victims’ families.
“The plans for the major World Trade Center memorial, like the plans for smaller, interim memorials around Battery Park City, belonged to the generation of monuments built since Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial: stark walls of names carved in humble rather than monumental forms, that seek to remember individuals rather than mythologize heroes and events,” he writes. “But the World Trade Center plans faced a challenge unlike any other recent American memorial because of where it would be built. Even the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., though located in the center of a major city, did not have a residential neighborhood nearby, and people do not pass through the area on everyday errands. Designing a memorial that would satisfy the public’s desire to commemorate a major disaster that would simultaneously not offend the sensibilities of locals who must walk through the area on other business is a significant challenge…”
Smithsimon’s look at Battery Park City, a planned community near New York City’s financial district, examines both the struggles and shortcomings of one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Focusing on both the global forces that shape local landscapes and the exclusion that segregates American urban development, Smithsimon shows the tensions—over memorials and other projects—at work as the neighborhood’s residents mobilized to influence reconstruction plans. In addition, September 12 reveals previously unseen conflicts over the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, providing a new understanding of the ongoing, reciprocal relationship between social conflicts and the spaces they both inhabit and create.
For review copies, please contact Betsy Steve, NYU Press, at 212.992.9991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.