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From Peter Marcuse, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning, Columbia University (Sept. 8, 2010):

Friends,

Attached is a short statement on the “Mosque at Ground Zero” issue which states the case for the project, with a focus on planning implications.

It was prepared for a coalition of over 100 groups supporting the project, whose website is http://www.nyneighbors.org. [Editor’s note: The New York Metro Chapter of APA is a member of this coalition.]

It challenges comments such as Dan Lauber’s that the project should be located elsewhere because it is “incredibly painful” to millions of Americans.
[Editor’s Note: Peter must have me confused with somebody else because nowhere have I ever suggested that the project should be located elsewhere, much less for that reason. Professor Marcuse is reading into the words written on our home page something that isn’t there. — Dan Lauber] It is only painful to those who see all Muslims responsible for 9/11; this project is in fact dedicated to honor the victims of 9/11, including more than 20 Muslims, its sponsors are well-known opponents of the extremist wing of Islam, have sqarely denounced the terrorists who attacked it, and have the support of many of the families of 9/11 victims. Folks like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palen, and Carl Paladno, the Rep;publican candidate for Governor of New York, are indeed inciting opposition to the project with some success, but on the basis of incredibly misinformed opinions.

But, as Dan points out; that's not the question he was raising for the planning profession.


Below is the statement:

A Planning-Oriented Approach to the Muslim Community Center in Southern Manhattan

By Peter Marcuse

The argument in favor of permitting the so-called “Mosque at Ground Zero” (which is really a Muslim community center with a minor part set aside for prayer; the developer calls it Park51, after its street address) is squarely in line with the vision of rebuilding New York expressed and refined in the course of an extraordinary period of public engagement and planning after the attacks of September 11. This vision has from the beginning included the central idea that the rebuilding process should powerfully reinforce the American values of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, and religious tolerance that are under attack by the Al Qaeda terrorists.

For the community at large, Park51 will bring a swimming pool, a culinary center, classrooms, and a performing space. For Muslims, it will add a much-needed prayer space in the neighborhood. The “mosque” part of the building will occupy [18%] of the site, the rest will be community facilities. It will be a place to explore what it means to be Muslim and American, Muslim in the modern world, Muslim and respectful of others in a multicultural society. And, like the 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Centers on which it is modeled, it will also be a place to celebrate cultural traditions—food, literature, music, dance—that are not specifically

The only thing legitimately controversial about the Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero is its location.  There is no legitimate objection to the construction of a mosque as such; the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, objecting to any religion as such is bigotry, and all opponents are not bigots. Nor are the sponsors un-American; there are extremists and moderates in most religions and cultures, and in this case the sponsors are leading moderates who have denounced terrorism and the 9/11 perpetrators vociferously and frequently. (And it’s not “at ground zero,” and its designed as a Muslin community center with a very small part set aside as a place for worship). )

So what is the objection to a Muslim center at this location? That it will offend the families of 9/11 victims and is inconsistent with the memorialization of the site of ground zero, where the attack on the World Trade Center occurred.  (Opposing the center  in the name of 911 victims would surely offend the over 25, possibly as many as 98, Muslims killed in on 9/11 (http://islam.about.com/blvictims.htm ). Should other 9/11 families also be offended if the families of those Muslim victims stepped on ground zero? said a prayer there? carried a Koran with them?).

What is the implication of objecting, not to the project, but to its location? It implies that there should be a buffer zone of some sort outside of ground zero, in which uses that would be permitted elsewhere are not permitted. How big should it be? Well, at least two blocks wide, to include the proposed location. (a New York Times poll suggests 20 blocks away would be acceptable for a mosque.) (Three blocks away there is a Flashdancers Gentlemen’s Club, commonly referred to as a strip club; shouldn't that be prohibited too? Strippers didn’t attack the W.T.C., but neither did the Muslim center’s sponsors.) Can religiou institutions as such be barred? (Three other churches are closer to Ground Zero than Park 51: St. Peters Roman Catholic Church, John Street Methodist Church, and St. Paul’s Chapel.; don’t all religions have to be treated equally?

Should the buffer zone exclude flashy commercial skyscrapers housing financiers whose greed brought us to economic crisis, hardly consistent with honoring those killed 9/11? (Not all financiers are greedy; but not all Muslims are terrorists.) Should the City of New York delineate such a buffer zone? (It would certainly raise constitutional question, and in any event the City’s administration has welcomed the Center, and drawing its limits would be pretty  difficult.) Who should decide what is permitted in such a zone – the residents of lower Manhattan? (The Community Board, representing those residents, voted approval.)  Could it prohibit  a particular religion, race, or ethnicity?? (Not constitutionally, is the universal agreement.) Should politicians running for office decide where and what is prohibited? (If they have no role in dealing with it, are minimally informed  of its history and seek only to make hay out of a painful controversy?) Is it proposed that a sub-group of the 9/11  families  have the power to vet any proposed new use in some buffer zone, over-riding normal planning and zoning regulations and democratic public procedures? (That would leave many other interested parties offended.)

That leaves us with the objections of some of the families of 9/11 victims. (Not of all; many belong to 9/11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, which is supporting the Center, and some have spoken eloquently for it as a way of showing that the quintessentially American values of freedom and tolerance continue to be honored despite the attack.) Does it matter if giving ground to those objections is inconsistent with normal conceptions of democracy? (The objections have been heard, and approvals nevertheless given by both local and city leaders democratically charged with the relevant decisions.)

But does it matter if some families of 9/11victims feel pain, whether logically or not, at the thought of the Center?  (should they be pained, at having sympathetic Muslim nearby?) In any event, few decisions as to what should be built where are free of controversy, and NIMBY issues, legitimate or not, are frequent.) But then, finally, should the developers go ahead here, even if they have the right to?. They have been in the neighborhood, worshipping there, living and working there, for decades. (They have bought an empty and damaged building, and propose a brand new building there, at a location convenient to their members and providing facilities for all their neighbors. Their choice of the location was not influenced by its proximity to ground zero, and they oppose the beliefs that led to it and honor its victims. In any event, the decision is theirs to make.)

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