6:47am on July 20, I was full of anticipation as I walked into the
Jacob Javits Center in New York City to be one of the 500 facilitators
bringing the voices of the area residents to life. This was going
to be democracy in action. We had been briefed on the logistics,
the area background and reactions that could be expected, the night
before. People were already lined up to check in as participants.
Over 5,000 area residents came to consider plans for the redevelopment
of Lower Manhattan and the creation of a permanent memorial for
9/11. Many had lost family and friends, others had run for their
lives. They lost their jobs and they had helped day after day as
part of the recovery efforts. The facilitators had come from all
fifty states, Europe, Africa and Australia. Word went out for volunteers
who were skilled in facilitation and comfortable with diversity
and strong emotions. Within two weeks, AmericaSpeaks, the event
designer, had almost 1,000 responses from 21 countries. For me,
it was a chance to connect with those who had lived through the
tragedy and hear what they thought and how they felt. I was unsure
how the day was going to come together with so many New Yorkers
in one room charged to create a common vision for the design of
the city's future.
This modern town hall meeting addressed the basic
issues of rebuilding the scarred 16 acres in lower Manhattan. There
were tables of 10, with computers connected to a central computer
base. Opinions were typed in and sent to a team who identified trends.
Participants ranked choices and voted with wireless keypads giving
real-time feedback to the sponsors. There were tables for those
who spoke Russian, Spanish and Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese dialects.
There were many races, religions and ethnic groups represented.
There were physically challenged participates in wheel chairs and
on crutches. Grief counselors were on standby. Over 200 news agencies
where there to report on and record this historical event. CNN spent
the day reporting live to the local area. My personal media debut
was being interviewed by Tokyo and Hungry TV correspondents.
There were a lot of personal agendas. One shirt
read, "I lost my company at Ground Zero and all I got was this
lousy shirt." Another had stickers with "Living Wage Jobs"
and "Affordable Housing." One brought his sculpture portfolio
and wanted everyone to look at it. I was asked, "Why would
you come here to be part of a staged, commercial process for people
who will not use any of what we say here today?". Others said,
"I came because they said they would listen."
The community bonding began when each participant
was asked to share their stories of how 9/11 impacted them. Two
members of my group had watched the attack from their balconies
and said they wondered what was going through the minds of those
who jumped. Each told their story and we listened. As we worked
through the day, they began to clarify their visions and hopes for
the future. They began to create new possibilities.
They wanted more green space, more neighborhoods
with affordable housing, better transportation, jobs for all levels,
a less commercial and a more vibrant and alive area. They wanted
a memorial that was extraordinary and inspirational. They laughed
and teased each other as they admitted they wanted conflicting options.
There were times when a memory surfaced and one would fight to hold
back the tears. At times we would just sit in silence as the emotions
poured over us.
This was an incredibly complex process. Over 70
groups that were independently organized to give citizens input
to the rebuilding design were linked together. The top decision
makers were in the same room at the same time with the area residents.
The decision makers stayed all day to listen and respond to the
visions and hopes that were shared. The six designs presented were
voted down. (Details and dialogue can be found at www.listeningtothecity.org.)
The 5,000 played well together. They listened
to each other. They were thoughtful in what they said. They moved
through the agenda on schedule. As their vision became clearer and
new options were created, I knew I was in the right place at the
right time. By the end of the day there were feelings of healing
and hope that a stronger, better community will come from this tragedy.
I am glad I was there.
Kathleen Rich-New is an Organizational Development Consultant, Seminar
Leader and Speaker with Clarity Works! You can find her at
or (321) 452-7308. Please email her for permission to print this
in your publication or post it on your web site.
Follow up results from this meeting:
- 40% of the office space will be built in other
sites in Lower Manhattan locations. (Oct 2002, NY Times)
- The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
(LMDC) has announced the two finalists out of 400 submissions
in the design competition for the memorial. They plan to release
the Master Plan by the end of February. It will take 10 years
to complete. It will take three years to bring the site up to
ground level. (February 2003)