Triumph & Commemoration: Collective Imagination and the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Controversy
This study reassesses the meaning of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ controversy of 2010 through the lens of urban sociology and collective imagination. It utilizes the imaginative fruits of civic forums, such as “Imagine NY” and “Listening to the City,” to determine New Yorkers’ collective vision for the rehabilitation of Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11. Articulated as a clarion call for the manifestation of commemoration and triumph over terrorism in the New York cityscape, it is this concept of collective imagination that became the litmus test for revitalization efforts in the downtown district. Years later, the proposal of the Park51 Community Center—what the media dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque”—failed the test, igniting perhaps the most heated debate in the history of urban planning. This article argues that the Park51 Community Center, as it was represented in the press, was a violation of collective imagination regarding how the space—incorporating the World Trade Center site and the contiguous area—should be used and that this violation came to bear on New Yorkers’ rejection of the project. The community center, referred to without exception as a “mosque” and almost always as being “at” Ground Zero, defied—in this context—popular visions for commemoration and the physical embodiment of American triumph in Lower Manhattan’s urban landscape.