The Ground Zero Coat

Burlington Coat Factory

This is sort of beside the point, since major issues of principle are at stake, but it’s sort of amusing to anyone who used to live in Manhattan to understand the extent to which the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate is being semi-dominated by misunderstanding of the area’s geography.

For example, I just last night learned that the proposed Park51 location is where the Burlington Coat Factory used to be. I own a coat that I bought there. Normally I would have gone to a store closer to my house in Greenwich Village, but I got it into my head to go downtown and try to find a good bargain at Century 21. Century 21 is literally across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood, and I think it’s fair to say that people described it that way—”right by the World Trade Center,” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone describe it as a “Ground Zero Department Store” or anything like that. Still, maybe I’m out of touch. But certainly it wouldn’t occur to anyone to refer to the entire panoply of things that are in a 2-3 block radius from the WTC superblock as somehow being “at” Ground Zero:


As you can see, there are actually a whole bunch of different subway stations in that radius but only one is the World Trade Center stations. J&R Music World isn’t a “Ground Zero Discount Electronics Shop,” it’s perhaps “near City Hall.” This morning I heard Chuck Todd on MSNBC raise the reasonable question of why it’s taken so long to rebuild anything on the former WTC site. But what he actually asked was “why it’s taken so long to rebuild Lower Manhattan.” I promise you, however, that if you visit Lower Manhattan you’ll swiftly see that it’s not a neighborhood that needs rebuilding. It’s a vibrant, enormously dense tangle of narrow streets, giant buildings, and a wild riot of uses. Then if you stumble around just the right corner, you see the blank spot where the towers used to stand—a sport that frankly looked weird and a bit out of place even before 9/11. There’s not some Ground Zero District and never was.

Anyways, I haven’t focused on this aspect of the controversy because unlike the rest of it, this is something the Park51 planners partially brought down on their own heads by overselling the site’s link to the Ground Zero site. But the factoid that the location in question is the unremarkable block where I bought my winter coat struck me.