A big-picture view of the world's tallest free-standing tower

The tragic events of September 11th, 2001, in the NY/NJ region have resulted in the need for two huge redevelopment projects. Re-designing "ground zero" has rightfully drawn national and international attention, and is being intensely debated. However the public is scarcely aware of the second project, one that will involve the world's tallest free-standing structure to fully support regional television stations and emergency broadcast capabilities lost when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

The Metropolitan Television Alliance has reported that most of its eleven stations are presently unable to cover the service area prescribed by their licenses, and almost one million tri-state residents who depend on over-the-air broadcast are currently without free TV or have poor reception.

When the World Trade Center was designed, a broadcast antenna was just one of many design considerations. These included a dramatic new high point for the Manhattan skyline, major growth of office and other spaces for the financial district, a new hub for trans-Hudson and New York City subways, as well as a panoramic restaurant and observation deck.

The Berlin, London, Moscow, Paris, Seattle, and Toronto skylines feature free-standing towers with public observation facilities. These are all aesthetically pleasing landmarks that generate local pride and significant tourism. What has not yet been decided for the tower in this area - which FCC regulations normally require be within 3.2 miles of the former location - is whether the 2,000 ft. tall structure will be located and designed in such a way as to also provide public access to unique educational opportunities. These could include programs for interpretation of surrounding geography; understanding of weather, air quality and bird migration; and a multimedia exhibition on the fascinating subject of modern communications.

Surely the basis for how future generations will judge the decisions on these "ground zero" and tower projects will be both the inspirational elegance of their designs and the maximization of their beneficial purposes. While terrorism has certainly jolted this nation, it must not, as countless voices have already said, be allowed to win by lowering our sights on the future. Both projects are one-time opportunities to responsibly add new icons to the skyline and culture of this metropolis.

Imagine the free-standing tower as an innovative showcase of the best thinking in structural aesthetics, human safety and security, broadcast technologies, ecological compatibility, energy efficiency, and economy, and that incorporates a wonderful menu of actual and/or virtual educational opportunities for the public. That the tower might be built without broad input as to the desirability and feasibility of these educational opportunities, when all comparable structures around the world include them, seems intuitively wrong.

Liberty Science Center, located at the north west corner of Liberty State Park, has been approached by the Metropolitan Television Alliance as a potential site for the tower. This nonprofit institution of interactive learning about science and technology has attracted almost seven million family and school visitors since opening in 1993. Next to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and directly across from lower Manhattan, Liberty State Park has 4.5 million visitors annually. It is a precious green space for people seeking relaxation and for birds in migration.

Liberty Science Center's first line of interest in the tower has been to encourage a big-picture approach to a very significant project, both in terms of responsibility and opportunity. Indeed, one of the Center's early topics of discussion with the Metropolitan Television Alliance was to discourage further consideration of a tower design with an unattractive big cone of supporting guy wires that would impact birds in large numbers.

Liberty State Park has long been in need of a clear and coordinated entrance. Located right next to on/off ramps along the NJ Turnpike extension, the station for Liberty State Park on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, itself with links to the PATH, and with adjacent park-and-ride facilities, Liberty Science Center is the place where independent studies have concluded that this entrance should be located. Architectural and programmatic integration of the free-standing tower with this transportation hub and Liberty Science Center's plans makes good sense.

The task at "ground zero" clearly has a context much broader than simply a 16-acre redevelopment. So too, respectfully, should the task of restoring television broadcast and emergency transmission facilities be much broader than simply finding a site for a tower with an antenna. Not only will this tower in the heart of the NY/NJ region be seen in all directions as far as twenty miles away, it richly deserves to become an exhilarating and resilient beacon to the frontiers of science, technology, architecture, lifelong learning, and democracy.

Emlyn Koster, PhD, is President and CEO of Liberty Science Center in Liberty State Park, Jersey City.