Ground Zero: Let the Memorial Be

One of the more curious aspects of the planning for a memorial at Ground Zero has been the bizarre preoccupation with allocating space to a cultural institution. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, along with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the state’s Council on the Arts, have been weighing two main proposals: the New York City Opera, currently at Lincoln Center, wants to build a 2,200-seat theater at Ground Zero, while a troika of the Joyce Theater, the Signature Theatre Company and the Drawing Center have visions of four theaters of varying sizes as well as gallery space. All of these proposals, which would involve taxpayer money, may not be necessary: The city should let the memorial be a memorial, a beautiful open space that evokes the memory of the almost 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11. Why the urgency to build a theater in a place of reflection and remembrance? Is there some previously unreported link between people who visit memorials and opera-goers?

There is no logical connection between a performance space and a memorial, no matter how reputable and highly respected the arts entities involved. The New York Times recently tried to claim that a cultural center at Ground Zero would “amplify and illuminate the meaning of 9/11″-as if the events of that tragic day were not sufficient unto themselves to evoke meaning without La Bohème being performed across the courtyard. Another question is why the City Opera, Joyce Theater and additional groups such as the Tribeca Film Institute and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra believe that being located at the Ground Zero site is a wise business decision. It’s true that a few people who come to pay their respects at the memorial may drift into a nearby theater and pick up a concert schedule, but why not wait and see if the area becomes a revitalized residential and transportation hub?

And if they truly want to be there, the cultural organizations should raise their own money and build adjacent to the Ground Zero site, where they can buy or lease land instead of receiving it as a gift. The use of public funds for a theater or museum on the W.T.C. site is a waste of money, especially when our existing museums and theaters have to struggle for dollars and donations just to survive.

The LMDC, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki should drop this ill-conceived effort to wedge an arts institution into a space that would best be left an open, unspoiled and dignified tribute to the Sept. 11 victims, their families, New Yorkers and all Americans.

New York’s Finances: No Time for Relaxing

Mayor Bloomberg and other city officials have had much to celebrate in recent weeks, as the city’s economy continues to rebound from the dot-com bust and the terrorist attacks of 2001. After several hard years, the city is looking at a budget surplus of some $1.5 billion. That’s the kind of news the Mayor wants to take into a re-election campaign next year. But there’s another figure that ought to be discussed as the Mayor and the City Council hammer out a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. And that figure is $3.8 billion-the size of the projected deficit in 2006.

Unfortunately, while the city’s short-term outlook is bright, clouds are visible over the horizon, and they are dark and foreboding. Recently, the state Financial Control Board, which was set up during the fiscal crisis of the 1970′s, warned that the city’s finances are “structurally unbalanced.”

To his credit, the Mayor hasn’t tried to pretend that the sun will come out tomorrow. He has consistently warned that hard times have not been banished, and that the city must figure out a way to deal with structural flaws in New York’s fiscal policy. Facing a re-election, the Mayor can’t be expected to dwell on the negative. But independent monitors have made it plain that tough decisions have to be made, sooner rather than later, and that any politically popular tax refunds being considered should be dropped. The Control Board reports that the Mayor and the City Council need to either cut spending or raise taxes to keep the municipal treasury in the black. Even with the current surplus, the board sees a “deterioration in the city’s fiscal condition” over the long term.

The Control Board, which has the power to take over the city’s finances under certain circumstances, is not alone in its concern. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which usually keeps a low profile on local government policy, also has sounded a warning about the city’s long-term financial health. The Fed believes that the city is far too dependent on Wall Street as a source of revenue through income and corporate taxes. These revenue streams, needless to say, are highly volatile. New York doesn’t collect enough money in property taxes, the Fed believes, even after the Mayor and City Council agree to raise rates by 18 percent a couple of years ago.

The city’s finances were unbalanced in the 1960′s and early 1970′s, but it wasn’t until bankruptcy neared that hard decisions were made, leading to painful cuts in services and a marked deterioration in the city’s quality of life. Nobody wants to see a return to the 1970′s. It was a time when cops were laid off, the parks were a mess, garbage gathered in gutters and classrooms were in chaos.

There seems little question that somebody with courage must step forward to remind New Yorkers that their city remains in a precarious state, but that with the right kinds of reforms, we will not see a repeat of the last long-term fiscal crisis.

Mayor Bloomberg spoke to New Yorkers bluntly in 2001 and was rewarded for it. He should do so again.

More Sex Is Worth About a Million Dollars

It’s no secret that sex can increase your happiness. But by how much, exactly? New Yorkers-many of whom devote significantly more time and energy to the pursuit of money than to pursuing regular sex with their mate-might be interested in a new study which indicates that more frequent sex pays off, literally. As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Oswald of Warwick University have found that boosting your sexual frequency from once a month to once a week brings an increase in happiness which is the equivalent of an extra $50,000 in annual income.

The economists also found that high-income people don’t have any more, or less, sex than low-income individuals, and that the happiest people seemed to be those who reported having one sexual partner per year.

So rather than scouting for a new partner when boredom sets in, the quicker route to happiness may be to love the one you’re with-more frequently. We’d like to modestly note that if you capitalize that $50,000 at 5 percent, your increased sex life would be worth about a million dollars.