Listening to the City

Redeveloping Lower Manhattan after the September 11 terrorist attacks

Sea of tables and participants
In 2002, AmericaSpeaks was honored with the responsibility of providing thousands of New Yorkers with a meaningful voice in the process of rebuilding the World Trade Center site.

Soon after the attacks, stark differences over the future of the site began to divide family members of victims, business leaders and residents. Civic leaders and members of the general public feared that business and political interests would prevail unless a broad public consensus emerged and shaped the redevelopment effort. To address this need, the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York asked AmericaSpeaks to develop a project that would transcend these differences and provide decision-makers with areas of agreement about the redevelopment of the site.

5,000 Participants

The first Listening to the City meeting was designed to shape a vision for the rebuilding process and involved over 600 people–primarily community leaders, issue advocates and planning professionals. The vision and principles for the rebuilding process, articulated by these participants, changed the decision-making climate by highlighting the value of involving the public. Impressed with the process and initial results, decision-makers from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority co-sponsored the second meeting and incorporated it into their official public engagement process.

4,500 members of the general public who closely reflected the demographic diversity of the region, attended the second meeting to provide input on site plans. This was, at the time, one of the largest public meetings every held.

Finally, a two-week online dialogue reached another 800 New York City residents who reviewed the site options in small cyber-groups.


Participants of Listening to the City demonstrated the public’s desire for more vision and imagination than the six different proposed plans offered – it was decided that none of the plans were sufficient. The result was a quick decision from elected officials and the governor to “go back to the drawing board.”

With this new public mandate, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation launched an Innovative Design Study that incorporated principles shaped by Listening to the City such as preserving the footprints of the Twin Towers for memorial-related space, restoring a powerful, tall symbol in Lower Manhattan’s skyline and reestablishing the street grid and improving connectivity within Lower Manhattan. Daniel Libeskind’s design for rebuilding the site of the World Trade Center, selected in February 2003, correlate with these elements and others of the articulated by the public at Listening to the City.

Listening to the City demonstrated that it is possible for thousands of citizens to come together, deliberate about difficult issues, and reach consensus within a charged and complex decision-making process. The process was praised by many decision-makers, the media, and architecture and planning leaders as a model for the future.