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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, STATE-OF-THE-ART OPERATION

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 HISTORY-ORIENTED INSTITUTIONS.

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.