When planes hit the World Trade Center on this day 11 years ago, the world and its cities were indelibly changed. The attack challenged perceptions of U.S. immunity from terrorist threats that other nations have long known all too well. The fiery collapse of towers that had stood for a generation as monuments to the dominance of U.S. capitalism forced the country to rethink its identity. Important conversations about civil rights and cultural memory emerged from the smoke and ash. Within the urban realm, the events of 9/11 also forced a conversation about place and how a society can best memorialize a site of tragedy and loss without turning it into a graveyard. How do you remember those who died in a place while encouraging that place to go on living?
With less than 24 hours before today’s anniversary commemorations, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday ended a long-running stalemate over the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which had originally been slated to open today. “The city and the Port Authority, which is controlled by Cuomo and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, had been locked in a dispute over funding and control for more than a year,” wrote reporter Azi Paybarah on Capital New York. The museum could be a powerful landmark helping to shape understandings and ensure that those who were killed in the attacks are not forgotten. From an urbanist perspective, the museum has the potential to attract diverse groups of people to Lower Manhattan and maintain the area as a vibrant cultural destination. Architecturally, the underground museum designed by Davis Brody Bond Aedas could, metaphorically, at least, ease the hole in the skyline left by the towers’ falling.
Yet like with so many other public amenities, the museum depends on federal funding, funding that now could be in jeopardy. From Politico:
[On] the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were still squabbling over whether federal taxpayers should be on the hook to help keep it open.
Since last fall, Sen. Tom Coburn has objected to a Democratic bill that would provide $20 million a year in federal funding to run the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero. The Oklahoma Republican placed a hold on the legislation over concerns the new spending isn’t paid for, and his spokesman said Coburn isn’t backing down now.
Coburn’s move reflects today’s political climate just as previous debates over building a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, or the height of the 1,776-foot 1 World Trade Center tower reflects particular moments in civil rights, or economic development machismo. The debate over funding the museum at Ground Zero is about more than just 9/11 or New York. At stake is not only the museum, but also a culture of investment in our shared history and future.
Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.