Like everyone else, I wanted to make a contribution after September 11 and I did so by assisting the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) at the Public Hearings Forum for the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan that took place in Manhattan and the five boroughs. I also was one of several hundred volunteer table facilitators—from all 50 states as well as Afghanistan, Australia, Columbia and South Africa—for the 4000+ attendees at the “Listening to the City Summit” that took place on July 20, 2002 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Below is my account about that experience.
After attending the Listening to the City orientation the night before, I arrived early the next morning at the Javits center to see that people were already queuing up for the day’s event. In my facilitator’s packet was an outline of the day’s agenda, instruction sheets, and a table layout diagram. My table was in the outer ring of the far quadrant from the main entrance. The main stage, where Carolyn Lukensmayer of AmericaSpeaks would facilitate the day’s proceedings, was in the hub of the four quadrants, and several large video screens were arranged throughout, so that at least one was in full view of each table. It was interesting to see the neighboring tables fill up—the table next to mine on one side was made up of Chinese-Americans, facilitated by a young Chinese-American woman who earlier that morning had shared with me her concern about her Mandarin proficiency. A couple of other neighboring tables consisted of Latinos, one overseen by a young man I had met the night before who had traveled from Columbia, South America. As the day progressed, I grew to appreciate our location on the “media aisle” and coffee station, where all the TV cameras were positioned so that reporters and journalists could interview individuals when they took a break. Despite the hubbub, my group sustained a lively dialogue for the entire conference.
Though careful efforts went into diversifying the make-up of the table participants, my small group was in fact made up of two architects, a sculptor, an interior designer and a retired teacher. All of them embodied the mission of AmericaSpeaks—“an informed citizenry is vital to
a properly functioning democracy”—they had done their homework and now wanted to engage with other citizens on planning Lower Manhattan’s rebuilding. The designers and architects brought along their design ideas, and even the teacher brought a well-thought-out schematic drawing of her idea for a final resting place for the damaged World Trade Center Sphere, Fritz Koenig’s enduring symbol of World Peace.
I perceived quickly that this group was not going to tolerate waiting until the designated time to see the set of design drawings for Lower Manhattan, so I produced them immediately, and they set down to studying and discussing the drawings with each other. When not prompting them to submit their opinions on their individual electronic keypads, or tallying and submitting the group consensus on agenda items by laptop computer, I observed their discussion of the six designs, what they liked as well as the way the designs fell short, which items were successful, and how our table vote stacked with the those in the rest of the room. The preliminary results of the day reflected exactly the sentiment of our table: that is, that the overwhelming majority of those present wanted to see neighborhoods and communities reconnected by restoring the street grid and pedestrian walkways, and extending the promenade, with ample green spaces, for public venues such as performances and concerts, to connect the community.