At first I was reluctant take on the story of rebuilding. I had spent the last ten years researching and writing the definitive book on the city’s biggest transformation story: the redevelopment of 42nd Street at Times Square. At the book party for Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon (MIT Press, 2001), Carl Weisbrod said, “Lynne, the story of rebuilding Ground Zero will be your next book,” but I was not quite ready for another tour-de-force research project. Soon enough, though, I was asked by John Mollenkopf to join a team of academics in a multi-pronged study of the city’s recovery following 9/11 funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. My task was to address “The Politics of Planning the World’s Most Visible Urban Redevelopment Project” (Contentious City, edited by J. Mollenkopf. Russell Sage Foundation, 2005, chapter 2). Rebuilding Ground Zero became an epic story of politics and money, and it took some twelve years to follow the saga, figure out this complex story, and then find a narrative that would explain the dynamic of how what we see today came about.
As with Times Square Roulette, my goal has been to explain how cities get built and redeveloped. I want to de-mystify the politics and process surrounding large-scale public-private development projects and how they impact the physical fabric of cities. I am of the generation that came of academic age schooled on Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, and the big story connected to big city-shaping projects has held me captive for decades. Adam Gopnik captured the essence what I have sought convey when in “Times Regained: How the old Times Square was made new,” he called Times Square Roulette “masterly” and wrote that it “is as mind-bendingly detailed an account of the relations of property and culture as one can find outside Galsworthy or Trollope. It’s full of eye-opening material…. its material is the material of the city’s existence. Reading it is like reading an advanced-biology textbook and then discovering that its sole subject is your own body” (The New Yorker, March 22, 2004).
To research and write the story of rebuilding the Trade Center site, I interviewed approximately 150 people, many several times, read through hundreds of primary documents and thousands of news articles and other secondary materials. The specific challenge of writing this story was to simplify the complexity of its political history without sacrificing its richness yet explain how the politics of money—in public agencies like the Port Authority as well as in the private offices of real estate developers like Larry Silverstein—shapes critical decisions of our urban environment. We all know that money is power, especially in a commercial city such as New York, but how the deals shape big public-development decisions remains mysterious, and not actually explained in media accounts. I hope readers find the story as compelling as I did throughout the years of research and writing.