THE GOTHAM CENTER'S 9 POINTS IN FAVOR OF ESTABLISHING
A NEW YORK CITY HISTORY CENTER AT GROUND ZERO
1. NEW YORK CITY NEEDS A WORLD-CLASS HISTORY CENTER
It is scandalous that New York - in contrast to innumerable
cities across the country and around the world - does not
have a place where citizens and schoolchildren alike can,
must, go to get a vivid overview of their city's history.
Similarly, it's criminally wasteful that our magnificent historical
resources are allowed to languish under exploited, while elsewhere
heritage industry attractions are a major draw for tourists.
The New York City History Center will be the springboard for
expanding our cultural and economic resources.
2. THE NEW YORK CITY HISTORY CENTER SHOULD BE A DAZZLING,
To hold its own in a tourist town packed with major league
attractions ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Times Square,
a New York City History Center must be bold and dramatic,
not traditional and fusty. It should mix scrupulous attention
to scholarship with the deployment of Disney-class theme park,
Broadway theatrical, and Spielbergian cinematic presentational
methods. There's a galaxy of relevant talent available in
Gotham - scholars of the city, curators of history museums,
experts in popular entertainment including stage producers
and set designers, film makers, musicians, and video artists,
and experts in computer graphics and web-based programming.
We should set them to work creating an experience brimming
with authentically New York energy, a place to which they
will return again and again.
3. THE HISTORY CENTER WILL ALLOW VISITORS TO "TIME
TRAVEL" BACK TO FOUR HISTORICAL EPOCHS OF NEW YORK'S
PAST, AND FORWARD TO THE FUTURE.
Visitors will enter a Grand Central Time Terminal. There
they will encounter four Time Tourist Bureaus, each hawking
the attractions of their particular moment in the city's four
hundred year past. Visitors will be issued a Time Passport
and can select which era to visit first. On arriving in their
chosen past they will be able to experience how New Yorkers
lived in that period, with the aid of costumed interpreters;
film, video, web and dramatic presentations; authentic artifacts
and artful reconstructions; and interactive and participatory
components (especially for school children from New York and
around the country). The Center will also offer an opportunity
to time travel ahead -- a Future Forum where visitors can
participate in imagining what the Gotham of 2050 might and
should look like, and suggesting how we might get from now
to then. (Details of the Time Travel proposal may be found
on-line at: http://www.gothamcenter.org/historycenter/historycenter.pdf).
4. THE HISTORY CENTER WILL HAVE A SPECIAL SECTION DEVOTED
TO TELLING LOWER MANHATTAN'S STORY FROM DUTCH DAYS TO 9/11.
While the primary exhibit areas survey the entire metropolitan
area at four distinct points in time, here we zoom in on Manhattan's
lower tip. We watch Gotham's densely historic core evolve
from a small harbor port and residential area clustered around
the Fort, to center of global finance. We will pay particular
attention, in the fourth quarter of the 20th century, to the
transformations out of which the World Trade Center emerged,
and track the changing ways in which Lower Manhattan impacted
the nation and world - and vice versa - over the centuries.
5. THE HISTORY CENTER WILL SERVE AS GATEWAY TO THE HISTORICAL
RICHES OF LOWER MANHATTAN AND THE WIDER CITY.
As visitors time travel to different periods of New York's
past, and are introduced to locations around town where momentous
events transpired, they will also be encouraged to explore
those sites as they exist today. Walking tour guides will
lead visitors out into the Lower Manhattan neighborhood to
investigate its past (and present). And attention will be
drawn to the wider metropolitan historyscape through printout
map-guides, touch-screen time-tellers, cell-phone directed
walking tours, and introductions (and transit to) the myriad
institutions that exist to interpret our heritage resources
throughout the five boroughs.
6. GROUND ZERO IS THE PERFECT LOCATION FOR A NEW YORK
CITY HISTORY CENTER.
The History Center will set the events of 9/11 in historical
perspective, but not be dominated by that horrific incident.
By emphasizing long term continuity rather than short term
catastrophe, by reminding visitors that New York is over four
hundred years old and has survived innumerable crises, the
Center will provide a reassuring alternative to an understandable
but myopic focus on present anxieties. It will empower new
immigrants and older residents alike by showing how New Yorkers
shaped their city's development over the centuries, and by
inviting them to discuss how to shape its future. And by setting
the city's history in national and global context, it will
allow visitors from afar (actual and virtual) to better understand
the impact of the great metropolis on their own lives, for
good and ill, and to offer their own perspectives on its past
and future. To do all this adequately, the Center must tell
Gotham's entire story, in all its immense variety and complexity,
rather than shaping its presentation around any single event,
no matter how significant.
7. THE HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY SHOULD NOT BE SUBORDINATED
TO ANY PARTICULAR THEMATIC AGENDA.
The proposed Museum of Freedom will be debated on its own
merits but we would urge that the LMDC not assume that the
Museum's planned inclusion of an exhibit on New York City's
past, no matter how well executed, would be a satisfactory
substitute for a full scale History Center. The city's vast
and capacious story cannot be reduced to the status of an
example of the benefits of freedom. New York City's history
is not a dependent clause, but a book in its own right; it
needs an institution all its own to do it justice.
8. THE HISTORY CENTER NEEDS TO POOL THE TALENTS OF GOTHAM'S
The Gotham Center is a strong supporter of the leading history
museums that are submitting proposals - the Museum of the
City of New York and the New-York Historical Society. We have
worked closely with each of them and should either of their
proposals carry the palm we would be glad to assist their
enterprise in any way they find useful. But because we envision
something grander than either institution alone would likely
have the resources to pull off, we propose that the LMDC,
should it favor our design plan, midwife the establishment
of a joint venture by those (hopefully amenable) institutions.
The History Center should also guarantee a role for the
rich array of non-Manhattan organizations - those that are
borough-based (like the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Bronx
Historical Society, Historic Richmondtown, the Queens Historical
Society), and those that are devoted to particular aspects
of the city's past (like the Schomburg Center, the Museum
of the Chinese in the Americas, the Seaport Museum, the Lower
East Side Tenement Museum). Finally, to ensure historical
accuracy, the scholars of New York's past, housed in the city's
great universities, should participate in creating the Center.
9. HOW THE NEW YORK CITY HISTORY CENTER MIGHT BE FINANCED.
Our proposed New York City History Center will not come
cheap. Even should a consortium of New York City's underfunded
historical institutions be forged, it's unlikely it would
have the wherewithal to undertake something of the scope we
are proposing. And as the Gotham Center is not itself a museum
- and does not have the resources to build and run a History
Center - where's the money to come from?
We think the answer lies in putting the cart before the
horse. We believe that if the LMDC approves the project, and
facilitates development of a Historical Consortium to own
and operate a New York City History Center, that corporate,
governmental, and philanthropic organizations will jump at
the opportunity of being associated with an institution of
such spectacularly high visibility, especially as it is extremely
likely to provide a steady revenue stream that can amortize
development costs and eventually emerge as a profit center.
We envision a public-private venture that would mix participation
from heritage industry ventures, with participation by the
city itself as a developmental partner.