Greening Ground Zero—And Lower Manhattan

Imagine Lower Manhattan as a sophisticated network of pocket parks and green patches. Imagine Downtown’s forthcoming “Remembrance Garden,” dedicated to the victims of the Sept. 11th attacks, joined by efforts to celebrate the living—to improve residents’ health and quality of life, to advocate for equitable transport and housing solutions, and to spark a debate about the area’s environmental future. These are the visions of Green Ground Zero (GGZ), a New York-based organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development in Lower Manhattan.

Founded earlier this year, the nonprofit was formed after its executive director, Erik Stowers, read a one-page article in the Nation about the possibilities of a green Lower Manhattan. Stowers contacted the author, who further convinced Stowers that the idea was not only exciting, but feasible.

To raise the cause’s profile, GGZ will host a sustainable design competition, which it will announce formally Sept. 4 at 6.30p.m. at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts. The event, which is open to the public but requires an R.S.V.P., will not only introduce GGV and its mission, but also feature remarks by jury chairman Randoph Croxton and a keynote address by renowned green architect William McDonough.

Stowers believes a competition is a natural first step toward encouraging debate about environmental planning Downtown. “We have the potential here to do something really extraordinary,” he says, referring to the rebuilding of both the Trade Center and Lower Manhattan. “We have a special obligation to ensure those buildings embody our highest ideals. Whatever is there should embody the best of us: us caring about our environment, caring about our children, caring about their health.” The competition will be open to all, regardless of nationality or profession, and is being co-organized by New York Climate Rescue (NYCR) and Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century (DL21C).

GGV plans to hold a public exhibition of the entries soon after the contest’s Oct. 20 closing date. Among the judges who will choose the winners are jury chairman Croxton; Dan Rosenblum, a senior attorney at the PACE Law School Energy Project; New York City Councilman Alan Gerson; and Jean Gardner, Professor of Architecture and Environmental Design at Parsons School of Design.

Although GGZ has no official power to see that the winning schemes are adopted, Stowers hopes to get the proposals considered by professionals and public officials. But even if that doesn’t work, he feels that getting people thinking about the possibility of a green Downtown is an accomplishment in itself. “We want to engage the public,” he says, “get them involved in the process and get their imaginations going.”

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