Ground Zero Reconstruction Facilitated by Mapping and Visualization Technology

The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center keeps the public informed about post-9/11 rebuilding through its website.

by / January 25, 2011
Google Earth

We will rebuild: We’re going to come out of this stronger than before, politically stronger, economically stronger,” Rudy Giuliani said after 9/11. “The skyline will be made whole again.”

As the mayor of New York City at the time, he had to say something to attempt to comfort New Yorkers after hijackers purposely crashed two planes into the Twin Towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Center (WTC) nearly 10 years ago.

The Twin Towers and five other WTC buildings were damaged or destroyed on what’s now called “ground zero.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 10 major buildings suffered partial or total collapse, and 30 million square feet of office space was put out of commission.  

So far, bureaucratic gridlock has made it tough to fulfill Giuliani’s promise. Larry Silverstein, owner of Silverstein Properties, owns a 99-year lease on the property, but ground zero is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The groups haven’t agreed on how to rebuild, and construction efforts today are years behind schedule and overbudget.  

Though the new 7 World Trade Center building was completed in 2006, much of ground zero reconstruction is far from finished. And in 2010, Silverstein told CBS that the lack of completion was a “national disgrace.”

That’s something the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) intends to change. And the people there had better change it — according to LMCCC Executive Director Robert Harvey, what’s bad for Manhattan is bad for the rest of the city.

“As Wall Street goes, the economy of New York City goes,” he said.

The LMCCC’s mission is to facilitate reconstruction and all of the communication and coordination that comes with bringing developers, public agencies, businesses and residents together to make it happen. Manhattan’s southern portion is the hub of city business and government.

“Our whole issue is just simply to help turn this into a vital 24/7 community where people will work and live,” Harvey said.

Getting the Word Out

The LMCCC was created to fill a tall order, but not without help. In 2002, then-Gov. George Pataki and then-Mayor Giuliani created the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC), a state-city body, to plan rebuilding and distribute federal money for it. The LMCCC was created three years later by a joint executive order of the governor and mayor as an arm of the corporation. Whereas the LMDC operates under the purview of a 16-member board, the LMCCC reports directly to the governor and mayor.

“We are more or less an independent entity here that is charged to track, negotiate [and] implement public and private projects in lower Manhattan, and make sure they’re done safely,” Harvey said.

There’s about $20 billion worth of reconstruction going on, so the LMCCC has a lot to communicate to stakeholders and the public. The site hosts a wealth of information about rebuilding and how local programs and streets are affected.  

The LMCCC’s Downtown Projects and Streetworks Map displays location and textual information in interactive space. Thanks to a union of Google Maps, Google Earth and the LMCCC’s data, users can click on certain buildings, like WTC Tower 3 at 175 Greenwich St., and find out how and when the structure should be back in business.

WTC 3 was the 22-story steel-framed home of the Marriott Hotel before 9/11. Impact of debris from the collapsing Twin Towers destroyed most of it, and the remains were gutted. If someone clicks that lot on the Streetworks Map, a bubble pops up listing the reconstruction start date of Sept. 1, 2010; the planned end date of Dec. 31, 2015; and a short paragraph with more specifics. An LMCCC link in the lower-left corner takes the viewer to another page with additional details, including daily construction information and details about the finished WTC 3 building — which should be 71 stories tall with 2.1 million square feet of office space and 133,000 square feet of retail space.

A sidebar to the map’s right is divided into groups of checkboxes that allow users to filter what’s shown. In the Street Impacts area, for example, people can choose which street obstructions the map will display by color, like red for total street closure, orange for moderate and green for minimal. They can also filter by type of reconstruction shown, including commercial, residential, hotel and retail sites.

“What we’re trying to do is clue [in] the people who live and work down here as to how this is going to be in the future,” Harvey said, “and also help kind of jump-start the revitalization.”

Views From Four Dimensions

Google Earth allows the LMCCC to provide 3-D imaging of disaster sites to give people a more complete picture of reconstruction. Pressing one button lets anyone zoom in on or pan over what’s left of WTC 3 and other buildings. The Streetworks Map also discloses timing information, which is what the LMCCC labeled the fourth dimension, or 4-D. An interactive time slider or calendar shows users how street impacts have changed over time.

“The LMCCC uses the 4-D modeling, and the modeling is helpful to them [and] when they make presentations to the community as well,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, vice chair of Manhattan Community Board 1. “It’s nice to see a project started and completed. Then you can see projects that they’re in the middle of and some projects that are about to be started.”

Case in point: When someone clicks on a site like WTC 3, the sidebar to the map’s right displays information related to that specific location. People can view 3-D renderings and text about general project details and its current status. As of Dec. 21, 2010, about six renderings were available by slideshow of planned reconstruction for the third tower, as well as photos of current site remains.

The LMCCC uses the mapping capability to keep everyone in the loop, and Hughes said that the coordination is essential.

“Instead of opening up the street 10 times — or one time for the water repair, utility repair, gas repair or electrical repair — it’s important to get the different agencies and stakeholders involved so that the street gets opened once rather than 10 separate times,” she said.

Construction updates are posted to other site pages, as well as air, traffic, transit and rebuilding advisory alerts — many of which are also on Twitter and Facebook — and by e-mail.

Roadblocks Ahead

The LMCCC has a good handle on information dissemination, but it has a long, uphill battle as far as completing the reconstruction. The organization was originally created to be finite, with a sunset date of December 2010 — but ground zero is far from finished. According to Harvey, construction has been impeded at least in part by economic factors that complicate agreements between partners.

“You have this financial meltdown that further impacted the agreements between those parties, which had to be renegotiated, so things have slipped a little bit,” he said. “So the completion dates are now more into 2014, so we’re looking for an extension until the end of 2013.”

Add to that a lack of cooperation between parties, and things are stagnant. Both the LMDC and LMCCC are state-city bodies, but since the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a state agency, New York City can’t do much to clear up bureaucratic roadblocks. It was reported in June 2010 that former Gov. David Paterson planned to cut the LMDC’s staff from 35 to five since he was unhappy with its ineffectiveness.

But Hughes said there are factors to the slow progress that people aren’t considering before they start grumbling. The 10-year anniversary is this September, and there may not be much rebuilding to celebrate.

“People say, ‘Well, hey, what’s taking so long?’ But [the World Trade Center site] is really six stories underground,” she said.

The work is delicate, complicated and intricate — too intricate, perhaps, to get done as easily and quickly as many would expect.

“Lower Manhattan — it’s less than one square mile. It’s very dense. It’s not open like California at all,” Hughes said. “The buildings are tall; the streets are windy. If you look at that 4-D map that they have, you can see, the lines are not straight.”

The LMCCC site listed more than 80 projects as having been completed as of Dec. 22, 2010.  


Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.