Options for Ground Zero

The architectural planning for Ground Zero in New York serves as a good example of where design thinking could have helped. Paul Goldberger’s recent New Yorker article, “A New Beginning: Should Ground Zero be Used for Housing?” (unfortunately not online) describes the emotional situation four years ago when it failed to occur to anyone that the new World Trade Center plan should focus on housing, not office space. In retrospect, it seems obvious. Manhattan needs more residential space, has an office surplus, and the trend in lower Manhattan is toward residential offerings.

An approach that explicitly goes looking for more and different options might have uncovered the obvious sooner. But it requires diligence to honestly question the available options in the midst of emotional rhetoric. Design thinking is, as the name implies, a particular way of thinking, and so not easy to invoke against the tide of conventional judgment thinking. I think some of the advantages we attribute to design thinking will actually come from the courage and cleverness to evoke design thinking at all.


  1. I think the real message, which applies to all of us hoping to improve the world, is that most real-world situations are driven by the goals of a small group of insiders who don’t give a crap about the rest of us.

    Politics, both NYC and US (and EU, and United Nations, etc.) are the most painful demonstrations of this condition.

    See Art Kleiner’s “Core Group” theory. http://www.well.com/user/art/

  2. Agreed. But in this case I think citizens had the opportunity to impact these decisions. It seems all the grassroots energy went into empowering victims’ families and not much went into considering those of us who live here.

    This is the first time Art Kleiner is appearing on my radar; his ideas look fascinating on first glance. Thanks for that link.

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