A few months after September 11th, 2001, I found myself on business in Brussels. I’d never been to the city before, so I did a little walking about with colleagues who worked there, and naturally enough we visited the Grand Place.
The Grand Place of Brussels was constructed in the 15th century, and was almost completely obliterated near the end of the 17th century when the nearly defenseless city came under heavy French bombardment. One of the few structures left standing was the Town Hall.
Within four years, the Grand Place was rebuilt, in a glorious Baroque style. The reconstruction was undertaken by the city’s guilds, subject to quite strict planning by the city council to make sure that the result was harmonious and functional, with all plans requiring pre-approval before construction could begin.
Here’s the result:
The Grand Place is no longer the commercial center of Brussels – the demands of business change over time – but it is a glorious monument beloved and regularly used by its citizens.
By contrast, eight years after the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists, this is what Ground Zero looks like:
Assuming anything ever gets built in the heart of downtown Manhattan, what are the odds that it will be considered one of the jewels of the city, both beautiful and commercially vital? What are the odds that, if anything ever gets built, we won’t all just hate it?
And this bothers me even more than our failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the rest of the top leadership of al Qaeda, because rebuilding lower Manhattan was entirely up to us. All we had to do was care as much about our city and our legacy as did the burghers of Brussels three hundred years ago.