Virginia's Judicial System


September 2002: Volume 10, Issue 3


Note: If you would like to print this issue of Resolutions, consider printing the text only version which can be found here.

Listening to the City - Remember and Rebuild

This is a time when the world, and America in particular, is reflecting deeply upon the events of September 11th a year ago as we recall the series of shocking events that jerked our security blankets right out of our arms that day. So far reaching are the effects of that tragic attack that we have yet to realize all of them. In spite of the horror, destruction, and sadness, a renewed appreciation for our country and the principles upon which it was founded was birthed. It is that indomitable spirit of pride and solidarity that has fueled a renewed hope for a stronger tomorrow.

Remember and Rebuild

As dispute resolution professionals, we are passionate about instilling hope within the hearts of those who are discouraged, angry, or struggling. The directors of two of Virginia’s community mediation centers were privileged to be invited to employ their skills as facilitators for a very special event in New York City in July. It is our hope that, in reading their perspectives on what took place there, you will be reminded what motivated you to become mediators. May you be inspired anew to give your very best to the cause of helping mankind reach understanding. May we all take advantage of every opportunity to promote harmony in our communities, in our country and in our world.

Through Bob Glover's Eyes

It had been 25 years since I felt the bustle, sights, and sounds of Manhattan. We arrived at Penn Station in the late morning, one of the hottest summer days. Just three weeks prior, I had responded to a call for volunteer facilitators for "Listening to the City - Remember and Rebuild," a town meeting set for July 20th in New York. My wife, Linda Smith, who on 9-11 led a disaster response team assisting military families at the Pentagon, accompanied me and volunteered to work registration and orientation.

Construction Site

Upon leaving Penn Station, we surfaced at W. 34th Street and Eighth Avenue and, looking up, we saw our hotel, the New Yorker. In its day, built around 1931, it was the largest hotel in the world with 2,500 rooms. It was the one recommended, with a special rate and convenient to the Javits Center, where the town meeting would be held. Prior to the afternoon orientation training, we had ninety minutes to spare. We rode the subway south to Chambers Street and walked the block to find the huge pit where the Towers once stood, surrounded by waves of tourists speaking at least six different languages. That helped us immensely in gaining perspective on how this truly was a gaping wound in the side of the city and how important is was to begin the work of remembering, rebuilding and restoring.

9-11, an unprecedented tragedy where 2,830 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), tore a hole in the heart of Manhattan. Sixteen acres of Lower Manhattan were leveled, tens of thousands of jobs were lost, and miles of electrical, communications and transportation infrastructure were destroyed.

Not long after the tragedy, two important groups began working together, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the WTC site, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), an agency set up by the City and State to oversee the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. The LMDC vows to rebuild the City, not as it was, but better than it was before.

Representing the community at large, and determined to foster a collaborative process to impact the rebuilding effort, is the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York. It is a coalition of 75 civic, community and business groups such as the Regional Plan Association, New York University, Pratt Institute, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Asian Women in Business, American Institute of Architects (NY chapter), Ford Foundation, Real Estate Board of New York, Surdna Foundation, Transit Workers Union Local 100, Wall Street Rising, and the YMCA of Greater New York.

The Civic Alliance brought in America Speaks, a non-profit from Washington, D.C., to organize public participation. Its aim is to obtain substantial public input and to guide a collaborative process that will help the Port Authority and the LMDC consult with the stakeholders groups, hold forums and obtain the citizen input that they believe is essential.

"Listening to the City - Remember and Rebuild" brought together nearly 5,000 participants from around New York. Participants were assigned to numbered tables of eight to ten per table. Using individual keypads, the participants answered demographic questions. Within just a few seconds, the scoreboard displayed the breakdown and compared it to the regional data. Participants saw that they came from all walks of life and represented the region in terms of age, gender, race, and income. Included were surviving family members, rescue workers, witnesses to the event, and thousands of others whose livelihoods were directly impacted. In all, there were 500 tables, each with a facilitator. They came from all fifty states and five foreign countries including Australia, South Africa and Afghanistan.

Participants at my table included a financial professional who witnessed the 9-11 events from an adjacent building and in the streets that day, a women who had worked in the North Tower and had just been laid off the week prior to 9-11, a planner from a citizens advisory group on transportation, an historian who was a native and expert on Manhattan, an Asian American and his 14-year old son who lived in nearby Chinatown, a young German planner studying urban development in Manhattan, and a disabled Vietnam Vet who has a particular interest in how the memorial would be planned and designed at the WTC site.

As a facilitator, I welcomed the participants and helped them organize and digest their participant’s guide and learn about the concept plans. In some cases, that meant helping them get juice and coffee, listening to their stories and making introductions. As the program began, my role was to help them balance between trying to learn important details and getting clear on what they really felt about the site and memorial proposals, as well as what was most important in terms of restoring lower Manhattan and the lives of those most affected.

Each table had a remote Apple laptop computer and each participant had a remote keypad. Participants volunteered to record the key themes as each discussion developed. Like mediation, it was important to begin with people’s stories and help them clarify issues most important to them. Participants were able to identify the themes and input they wanted the decision-makers to hear and understand. In some cases, there were minority views and these were also reported. As each table sent their input, the America Speaks "Theme Team" collated the information. Within thirty minutes, they posted the six or seven major themes for that topic on the large video scoreboards. For example, given the topic of "How do you feel about the six proposed concept plans for rebuilding the WTC site?", participants were able to experience a living room dialogue at each table, and then the feedback from all 500 tables was collated and reported back to the entire group. One memorable comment indicating the need to be more bold in design stated, "these plans make us look like Albany."

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the founder and director of America Speaks, working from center stage, provided commentary, coordinated the agenda, and introduced video clips and guest presenters to help better inform all the participants. As the input was organized into themes, each participant could vote on which was most important and those results were displayed within just a minute of the voting.

When asked specifically their feelings about the six concept plans, overwhelmingly participants felt that none of the plans were bold or daring enough! It was essential to restore the skyline of lower Manhattan with a structure that would be more impressive than the original Towers. Secondly, the participants wanted to better define the Memorial site as one that will be inspirational, serene and respectful. Others focused on what needs to be done to restore the economy in lower Manhattan. Additional feedback received from the groups was that they want the site to be a 24/7 community with mixed use and providing affordable housing, cultural amenities and improvements to the transportation networks to better integrate the trains and subways. There was also a clear consensus to make the West Street area a park that would connect the Memorial with Battery Park and put the traffic underground by building a tunnel.

The original plans called for restoring all eleven million square feet of office space that was lost. However, participants were clearly telling the planners to go back and talk with the buildings’ leaseholder, Silberstein Properties, to open up the design process to allow for more innovation and design quality.

More than the use of technology or the complexities of putting together such a large gathering, what struck me most was the spirit, tenacity and commitment of these New Yorkers. Each had their own views but, upon leaving the table, each acknowledged they had learned much from one another and were in fact surprised by how well the day went. They were inspired. Yes, informed democracy can make a difference. By coming together to speak their minds, listen, learn and share, their voices would indeed be heard and their recommendations will make a difference.

In just the few weeks since the Listening to the City event, the New York papers have reported weekly stories showing how both planners and politicians are resonating those same themes developed by the event participants on July 20th. In fact, some political leaders are now allying themselves with those ideas as though they were theirs all along. For those New Yorkers, this affirms what Aristotle said, "A citizen is one who participates in power."

These web sites can provide more information on Listening to the City: www.listeningtothecity.org and www.americaspeaks.org.

Bob Glover is the Executive Director of DSC - Community Mediation Center in Norfolk.

Through Lawrie Parker's Eyes

"The mediator is encouraged to provide pro bono or reduced fee services to the community, where appropriate." (Standards of Ethics & Professional Responsibility for Certified Mediators)

I volunteered for the Listening to the City event, hoping that my facilitation, listening and problem-solving skills honed in mediation and restorative justice might be helpful to people devastated by 9/11. I learned that these skills are not only important but needed. The experience for me was deeply affecting. Everything I learned about facilitation in my years of mediation and restorative justice was brought to bear that day.

Lawrie Parker and the Participants at Her Table
Lawrie Parker and the Participants at Her Table

At the elemental level, the event was not unlike my work in mediation and restorative justice. I was charged with helping the people at my assigned table decipher complex information, openly discuss the options, which would result in informed, collaborative decision making and shared ownership of the outcome. Staying connected at a human level was central to the process. Together with those around the table, I sought a balance between sadness and hopefulness.

But the searing agony of September 11th made the day incomparable. Participants at my table included an older couple who lost their son, an only child; a rescue triage worker; a displaced apartment resident who lived across from the twin towers; a constituency services director for a Lower Manhattan state lawmaker; and a young man from Chinatown who said he never understood until 9/ll what the word horror meant.

Guided by an ambitious agenda, we prioritized issues, studied land use plans, wordsmithed the memorial mission statement, and voted on memorial site options. Weighed down by the never-ending pain of great loss, we reverently read the poem Marie wrote about her son Michael for his memorial service, shook our heads in disbelief at the photos of Carol’s debris-filled apartment, and tenderly listened to each other’s stories of terror, loss, anger, courage, resilience and caring.

I’m proud and humbled that my mediation/restorative justice skills and knowledge afforded me the opportunity to be of service in the rebuilding of our national community. My fifteen-year-old daughter, Katie, accompanied me to New York and volunteered behind the scenes. She is now in Europe, spending her high-school sophomore year as a foreign exchange student in east Germany. A peer mediator in public schools since third grade, I hope Katie will have an opportunity to share her mediator skills and knowledge in service to our world community.

People are talking about Listening to the City as world-changing. Someone said, "THIS is the true anti-terrorism action." It was democracy that was attacked on September 11th and it was democracy in action, stronger than ever on July 20th.

Another picture of Lawrie Parker and the Participants at Her Table

Lawrie Parker is the Executive Director of the Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center in Warrenton, VA.

This page last modified: December 9, 2002