The Memorial Process

  • Memorializing seems to play a valuable role in healing after a man-made trauma.  For this reason, memorializing appears to be more important for those experiencing man-made trauma than for those experiencing nature based trauma.
  • Memorializing after man-made trauma has two major components:  remembrance and creation of a positive from a negative, often through education and identification of hope.
  • Memorializing is always complex. 

Field of Empty Chairs, Oklahoma City National Memorial/Jeremy Paige

Model of future World Trade Center Site, New York City/Jo Wolf

Memorializing is always complex.

Oklahoma City had its greatest success through inclusion of all parties directly impacted by the incident and by founding its planning process on what the Memorial should convey rather than on the appearance of the Memorial.  This does not mean there will not be opposition in any memorial planning.  It does, however, appear to lessen the opposition and to mitigate the impact of the opposition.  This is a recommended consideration for both the rebuilding and the memorial process, as is the policy of using those directly impacted to promote the end product to their peers.

New York City formed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) to develop a blueprint for rebuilding the damaged area after the destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) and to oversee the revitalization of Lower Manhattan south of Houston Street, where 16 acres were leveled in the attack, thousand of jobs were lost, and miles of electrical, communications and transportation infrastructure were destroyed.  A mission statement for the memorial portion of the WTC footprint was developed in spring 2003, then, LMDC released guidelines for an international memorial design competition.  Proposals from 63 nations and 49 states were reviewed.  “Reflecting Absence” by Michael Arad was selected in January 2004.  In spring 2005, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation was formed to build and operate the Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero.

Ireland, with many smaller, more local physical memorials has tackled the giant problems of remembrance through the “Healing Through Remembering” project.  Using a quote from Maya Angelou, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” as a guide, they began to explore the process in 1999.  Their vision was to acknowledge the events connected with the conflict in and about Northern Ireland, and in so doing, to individually and collectively contribute to an understanding of, and the healing of, the wounds of society.  Their mission was “to identify and document possible mechanisms and realisable [sic] options for healing through remembering for those people affected by the conflict in and about Northern Ireland.”  (Healing Through Remembering Mission Statement)  To ensure that as many voices as possible were heard through the consultation process, they advertised for input in 56 newspapers, sent letters to over 400 organizations, distributed 5000 leaflets and recorded 39,934 hits on the project website.  The ideas for using remembering for healing were varied and conflicting, with some concerns expressed that remembering might increase divisions and violence, as well as bring healing.

The Survivor Tree, Oklahoma City National Memorial/Ann Clark

Role of interim exhibits and/or symbols of hope 

In Oklahoma City, the fence around the former Murrah Building footprint became a memorial where visitors, family members and survivors placed mementos.  The American elm, which became known as the Survivor Tree, became a symbol of hope when it leafed out after being bombed and then burned.

In New York City, the Sphere that had stood in the WTC Plaza was installed in Eisenhower Mall in Battery Park as an interim memorial.

In New Orleans, the opening of the SuperDome became a symbol of hope for the community.

In Oklahoma City, there were major discussions concerning use of the word “hope” in the Mission Statement.  But time has shown that hope is one of the most healing elements in the post-disaster scenario.  Finding “hope” seems to move the community toward the new normal that they must, of necessity, attain.

Community involvement in planning a memorial

Gallery of Honor, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum/G. Jill Evans
It is often said that Oklahoma City democratized the memorial process.  The memorial process was guided by a 350 member Task Force, charged with developing a public consensus and gaining wide community-based support.  After an eight month massive input campaign from families, survivors, first responders, community members and more than 10,000 people across the world, a Memorial Mission Statement was developed.  This was followed by a two stage Design Competition that included broad input at each step.  In July 1997, a design was unanimously approved by both the Task Force and the family members and survivors.  Created to honor those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the Memorial is dedicated to educating visitors about the impact of violence and the events surrounding the bombing, and to inspire hope and healing.  The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, dedicated on April 19, 2000, and the Memorial Museum, opened on February 19, 2001, illustrate the importance of remembrance and education as well as the power of collaboration and an inclusive process to bring hope from disaster and despair.

Under the guidance of the Municipal Art Society (MAS) of New York, New York City launched “Imagine New York.”  The process was built around workshops designed to allow participants to express their own ideas for the memorial and the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.  MAS trained over 200 volunteer facilitators to run the workshops, which focused on physical design and planning solutions for the damaged area.  Ideas could be in the form of drawings, paintings or writing.  Workshops held at local libraries, places of worship, schools and universities, museums and community centers numbered 230, and over 19,000 ideas were received.  These were reviewed and sorted into categories of like ideas, then preliminary vision statement drafts were developed, one for each of the 49 categories of ideas. Examples include

AmericaSpeaks meeting in New York City/AmericaSpeaks
  • Remember and honor the victims
  • Slow down the planning process for the WTC site
  • Build community unity and solidarity
  • Create offsite memorials
  • Establish days of remembrance and commemorative events
  • Focus on personal recovery and priorities.
    (Copy of Summary Report, Imagine NY, is located in Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives)

On July 20, 2002, the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York held a 21st Century Town Meeting facilitated by AmericaSpeaks, a nationally recognized non-profit organization.  Participants engaged in round table discussions and used innovative support technology to instantly share their ideas and recommendations with all present.  Discussion categories included such areas as Transportation, Business and Economic Development, Cultural Events and Institutions, Health and Environmental Issues, The Rebuilding Process, Safety and Security, etc.  The 4,300 participating New Yorkers, after a day of tough deliberation, told local leaders that the original plans for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center were too dense and failed to meet the needs of the city.  This message made headlines in newspapers around the word.  Within a week, decision-makers announced that the plans would have to be redrawn in accordance with public priorities.  (Copy of Listening to the City report is located in Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives)

Hiroshima chose to make the entire city a symbol of remembrance and hope.  In 1945, Hiroshima passed the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law.  The first article of the law states that “this law aims at the construction of Hiroshima as a Peace Memorial City, a symbol of the ideal of faithfully realizing lasting peace.”  This city functions as both a memorial for reflection and as a living memorial, where museum and educational activities continue to teach the lessons of the incident.  Each year, on August 6, the mayor makes a formal appeal for peace to the entire world at 8:15 a.m.  (Hiroshima Peace Memorial)

The media is a natural ally in the Memorial Process.  

  • Media are a front-line for ideas.  In Oklahoma City, the media were inundated with drawings, memorial ideas, poems and songs.  Because of their relationship with the public via coverage of an incident, they are the natural recipients of much of the public out-pouring in response.
  • As the memorial process begins, the media are primary conduits through which the public will be contacted to participate and evaluate.
  • Because the media will undoubtedly be covering the memorial process, they will also be viewed by the public as primary sources of information on the progress of the memorial process.  Through their coverage they will play vital roles in shaping the public’s view of the process.

Resources for Help

1050 17th Street, NW, Suite 701
Washington, DC  20036
Phone     202.775.3939
Fax         202.775.0404

Founded in 1995 to provide citizens with a great voice in public decision making, its innovative, deliberative, democracy mechanisms give those in leadership positions direct, substantive citizen feedback on key issues.  AmericaSpeaks uses a methodology called a 21st Century Town Meeting®, which creates an intimate, safe space where diverse groups of people can tell their stories, listen to one another, and wrestle over tough choices, while at the same time finding consensus among thousands of people.  They use keypad polling, groupware computers and trained facilitators to find agreements among participants.

Healing Through Remembering
Alexander House
17a Ormeau Avenue
Belfast, Northern Ireland  BT2 8HD
Phone     028 9023 8844

Healing Through Remembering is a Northern Ireland cross-community project made up of individual members holding different political perspectives who have come together to focus on the issue of how to deal with the past relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor
New York, NY  10006
Phone     212.962.2300
Fax         212.962.2431/33

LMDC was created in the aftermath of September 11 by Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani to help plan and coordinate the rebuilding and revitalization of Lower Manhattan, defined as everything south of Houston Street.  The LMDC is a joint State-City corporation governed by a 16-member Board, half appointed by the Governor of New York and half by the Mayor of New York City.  LMDC is charged with ensuring Lower Manhattan recovers from the attacks and emerges even better than it was before.

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
P O Box 323
Oklahoma City, OK  73101
Phone     405.235.3313
Contact:  Kari F. Watkins, Executive Director

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum was created to honor those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The Memorial and Museum are dedicated to educating visitors about the impact of violence, informing about events surrounding the bombing, and inspiring hope and healing through lessons learned by those affected.

World Trade Center Memorial Foundation
One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor
New York, NY  10006
Phone     212.227.7722
Fax         212.227.7931

Formed in spring 2005, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation will build, own and operate the Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York.  It works closely with LMDC in completing the design and construction management plan.

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