Salvador Arellano begins his work with a small, green scouring pad. He scrubs away the fingerprints and the residue left by countless tiny splashes of water. He removes any scratches made by visitors – stars, hearts and, once, a large cross. Then he takes a soft, round brush and rubs black wax onto the bronze surface.
Letter by letter, name by name, Mr. Arellano is cleaning the panels listing those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Around him is the rushing sound of water as it cascades down into a deep, square pool where the north tower of the World Trade Center once stood. Beyond that is the drone and clanging of an active construction site.
“You can feel it,” said Mr. Arellano, 49, an artist and employee of KC Fabrications, the company that made the panels. “All of that pain. Those names, those families.”
Over the past year, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan has welcomed more than 4.5 million visitors, a testament to its success among New Yorkers, tourists and the families of the victims of the attacks. While it is a deeply powerful place, it is also one with more pedestrian problems, including tensions over money, security, decorum and maintenance.
Striking and immense, the memorial can move visitors to tears but does little to inform them, thanks to a dispute between two levels of government over how to pay for its unfinished museum. Stringent security checks thwart the intent to incorporate the area into the surrounding neighbourhood. And periodic flare-ups over visitor behaviour – whether tourists eating picnics or students making mischief – point to the difficulty of reclaiming the space for the public at large.
In the 12 months since it opened, the memorial has become a magnet for tourists. The surrounding streets bustle with activity. A new W Hotel sits bang opposite the memorial’s entrance, hawkers are out selling souvenir booklets and people wearing yellow vests emblazoned with the words “pedestrian safety” help the throngs navigate Manhattan traffic.
To enter, visitors pick up a free ticket and pass through an airport-style security checkpoint. They are guided along a fenced-in, screened-off path by staff wearing light blue shirts and earpieces. Suddenly, the path emerges onto a large, open plaza full of young oak trees. Ahead are the two footprints of the towers, transformed into waterfalls, deep and enormous enough to produce a brief moment of vertigo. Around the edges of the pools, some leave flowers and messages to lost loved ones.
Paula Grant Berry, whose husband, David Berry, died in the attacks, said in an interview that the memorial is a source of comfort to her and her family. In the past, when she went near the site, “I used to almost hold my breath, it was so charged,” she said. Now she visits frequently, by herself or with others, and learned that her sons were also seeking out the place on their own.
The number of people flocking to the memorial makes it all the more disappointing that the site’s museum, originally supposed to open a year ago, remains shuttered in a half-finished state, Ms. Berry said. “It’s outrageous,” she said. The impasse between the governments of the city and the state “has gone on too long.”
The delay was about money and powerful personalities. The governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, oversees the body that owns the World Trade Center site. Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, heads the foundation that runs the memorial and the museum. The two parties had been unable to agree on how to divide the museum’s operating costs, especially as the project’s overall price tag has spiralled up. The dispute meant that the museum is unlikely to open until 2014 at the earliest.
Last night, the two sides announced an agreement that will pave the way for the completion of the museum.
Another unknown factor in the memorial’s future is the extent of its security precautions. The foundation that runs the memorial intends to spend a fifth of its operating budget, or about $12-million (U.S.) a year, on private security. The design for the memorial calls for the plaza to be open on all sides to sidewalks once the construction on the adjacent buildings is completed.
Michael Arad, the architect of the memorial whose design beat out 5,200 other entries, said in an interview that he was looking forward to a time when people working nearby could “walk out the door at lunchtime onto the memorial plaza and make it part of their day-to-day life.”
That kind of access isn’t possible at the moment, he said, given ongoing construction. In the long run, however, an airport-style screening checkpoint to enter the plaza would be “completely anathema to the notion of open public assembly, which is what this design is about,” he said.
More recently, the memorial made tabloid headlines for the lack of decorum exhibited by some of its visitors. In June, the New York Daily News reported that a group of junior high school students from Brooklyn had thrown trash in the site’s two giant pools, sparking outrage.
Earlier this month, the New York Post inveighed against tourists treating the spot like a “playground” by breaking out snacks, balancing coffee cups on the names of the dead and generally contributing to an “almost cheerful” atmosphere at the site.
On several recent visits, no mischief or antics were evident. Smiling tourists posed for endless photos. Visitors sat on stone benches, looking at maps, applying lip gloss or resting tired feet.
Along an edge of one pool, Matthew Kirsner and his girlfriend took out three pieces of parchment and a piece of charcoal. They placed them on the bronze panel and made rubbings of one name.
An estate planner and former army officer, Mr. Kirsner, 43, was seeing the memorial for the first time. As a boy, he remembers visiting his aunt, Dorothy Mauro, in her office at the insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan on the 98 floor of the north tower.
Mr. Kirsner carefully rolled up the rectangular parchments and prepared to leave.
“I guess you could say I’ve avoided coming here,” he said slowly, his eyes on the waterfall just in front of his aunt’s name. “Instead of straining my neck to see up, I see a bottomless fountain.”
THE MEMORIAL’S JAW-DROPPING PRICE
With its huge reflecting pools, ringed by waterfalls and skyscrapers, and a cavernous underground museum still under construction, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center is an awesome spectacle that moved and inspired 4.5 million visitors in its first year.
But all that eye-welling magnificence comes with a jaw-dropping price.
$700-million – Roughly the price of the project once it is complete
$60-million – Yearly cost of running the museum and memorial
$12-million per year – About one-fifth of the foundation’s budget, to be spent on private security because of terrorism fears.
$4.5-million to $5-million – Annual cost of operating the two massive fountains that mark the spots where the twin towers once stood
2 million – Number of visitors a year the foundation expects
$12 – Potential fee for the museum, like the one charged at the memorial to the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing
40 per cent – Amount of the museum’s operating costs that the admission fee would cover 33 per cent: