Growing New Life at Ground Zero
by Michael Ableman
The New York Times, December 21, 2002
Proposals for rebuilding the World Trade Center site were unveiled this week
- a collective vision of towering skyscrapers, amphitheaters and broad avenues.
Almost completely missing from the plans, though, was an essential element
- a sense of the earth.
And so I'd like to add something to the mix: an urban
farm to be built on a portion of the trade center site.
Two to three acres could feed hundreds of people,
provide employment for many and connect New Yorkers
to the source of their food. As a generator of jobs
and food, a downtown farm would demonstrate that a
successful economy can have local roots - that it need
not only be global.
As with all agriculture, the foundation of the project
would be soil and seeds. Communities across America
could send handfuls of earth, thereby building the
farm from the soil of the entire nation. Seeds could
come from various parts of the world and grow into
a living example of our cultural diversity.
Imagine an orchard with hundreds of varieties of apples,
where people could stroll down the alleys of the trees
-- enjoying the shade and witnessing the gradual cycle
from flower to fruit. Consider what it would be like
to walk in the middle of winter through beautifully
designed glass houses filled with the earthy smells
and brilliant colors of an array of fresh food and
flowers. Picture outdoor gardens winding through and
around the new buildings -- gardens overflowing with
herbs and berries and spring, summer and fall vegetables.
A market could be built, so people working in the
new buildings and living in the neighborhood could
buy fresh vegetables. They could also take part --
during their breaks or at the end of the day -- in
tending the soil and producing something real for themselves
and their community.
There could be classes and workshops on cooking and
gardening, as well as celebratory public meals, to
make use of the farm's yield. Joined to other proposals
for rebuilding the site, the farm would provide New
Yorkers with a new version of the town square, one
that balances the hardscape of buildings and pavement
with fertile soil, lush plantings and fresh foods.
The farm could be installed at street level - or,
to conserve valuable real estate, it could be placed
atop buildings, where it would benefit from better
sun exposure and air quality. As part of this sky-high
farm, greenhouses could be warmed by the spent energy
from the buildings beneath them and gray-water recycled
for irrigation, creating a world-class model and laboratory
for rooftop food production and energy conservation.
A World Trade Center farm could become a gathering
place, a sanctuary, a cultural and social center as
important for the health of Manhattan's civic life
as its art museums, concert halls, theaters and restaurants.
The gardens would be a symbol not just to Americans
but to people all over the world. They would show that
we know how to bring forth life and nourishment from
the rubble of hate and destruction.
I do not believe that it is enough to consecrate the
site with steel and concrete and extraordinary architecture.
We must also honor lives lost with living seeds planted
in their memories - seeds that would grow and prosper
for years to come.
Michael Ableman, author of "On Good Land:
The Autobiography of an Urban Farm," is founder
of the Center for Urban Agriculture.