2001 ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO
September 20, 2001
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am writing this message to you at the end of an extremely difficult week. As many of you know, I not only worked across the street from the World Trade Center (it's the building marked as Post Office or Federal Building on the maps that appear in the newspapers) but my windows faced the towers. I was at my desk as we heard the jet bearing down on us. We got to the window just as the plane struck the first tower (just a couple of hundred feet from my window). The horror of the building being engulfed in flames so quickly, as well as the sight of watching people kicking the windows out and jumping from eighty floors above the ground, is still etched in my mind. As the second jet circled from the south, it disappeared for a few seconds behind the building and then reappeared to the east. For a brief second or two, it seemed to be heading directly for my office, as we stood at the windows watching the North tower. But as news video would later show, the plane continued to turn and hit the southerly side of the South tower. We ducked behind columns as the debris and fireball came our way. It was at this point, realizing that this was not an accident that we were witnessing, that my staff and I made our way down the stairs to the street. We all were several blocks north at the time of the tower collapse.
While still struggling with the enormity of this event, the reality struck that our upcoming meeting in Montreal needed to be addressed. In keeping with the spirit in the early aftermath of not allowing this tragic event to disrupt us, ASLA issued a statement that indicated that the meeting would go forward as planned.
In the days that followed, there was a great deal of communication among those who were going to the Annual Meeting, those who help support the Annual Meeting, the ASLA staff, and the volunteer leadership. As the days went by, it became increasingly clear that things were not going to return to normal as quickly as thought. Many exhibitors and registrants began to let us know that they would not be going to Montreal. Others indicated they would go if we held the meeting but would rather not have to travel. Speakers and presenters began to cancel. The meeting was quickly becoming fractured beyond repair.
As someone so close to the tragedy, I wanted to demonstrate that these terrorist acts could not keep me down, my city down, or my country down. As ASLA President, I wanted the opportunity to share with you my accomplishments and fulfillment of the commitments I made to you when I became President in St. Louis. There are few among us who wanted the Annual Meeting to be held more than I did.
It was, therefore, with a great deal of difficulty and emotion that I took the position that it was in the best interests of the Society and its members to cancel the Annual Meeting in Montreal. The Executive Committee had extensive and intense discussion via conference call to review the options. It was an extremely difficult decision to make, each option and position was fully explored, and at the end of the call, the Executive Committee made the unanimous decision to cancel the Annual Meeting.
By canceling the Meeting, we were dealing with a known number of issues that would need to be addressed. By moving forward, the best we could hope for would have been a broken and somber meeting with an unknown number of variables to deal with, many of which might have been out of our controlnot the least among them being the safety and concern for our members. There are those who believe this is not yet over. It is clear that America will strike back and there may be repercussions from that action. As America readies itself for war, to bring so many of you away from your homes and families in such a time of need was not a responsible position to take. There are those who agree and support the decision to cancel the Annual Meeting and those who disagree. I can assure you that either decision was not considered a good one. The one we made was the one with the less potential risk for our members and this Society. If we are to be second-guessed as being too cautious, I can more easily live with that, than if we were to move forward with a meeting with potential for greater risk.
ASLA is working very hard to find other alternatives that will recognize those who were to be honored in Montreal as well as for us all to celebrate the profession that we all love. We are looking for a way to do this that will be meaningful for all participants. We are working on ways to take care of the governance issues and the business of the Society that would have taken place in Montreal. And last but certainly not least, we are working to ensure that our members do not suffer financial burden from the cancellation of the Annual Meeting. The ASLA staff, Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, Chapter Presidents, and other members of the volunteer leadership have exhibited tremendous strength and determination in making difficult decisions and in implementing all the necessary actions that are needed. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of them. I ask for your understanding and patience during this difficult time. There will be communication going to you on all of these items in the coming days and weeks.
One final thought. In the days following the disaster, there was a great deal of attention focused on getting the stock exchange up and running. It was as if this economic center were the very heart that pumped life through the veins of this city. If the stock exchange plays that role, then certainly landscape architecture is the conscience and very soul of this city and our country. As people gathered in the great parks and open spaces, especially here in NYC where we have been so deeply touched, they were able to share as one community the grief, feel the support, receive comfort and the reassurance that we will find a way to move on with our lives. The memorials set up in places like Union Square Park are tributes to those lost and those rescue workers who are continuing their work. The work we do and spaces we create are so very versatile. They function in times of joy and in times of sorrow. They allow us to come together in extremely emotional times. They allow us to connect with nature and feel that we are connected to a greater spirit beyond. I feel so very proud of what we do. The examples of our work are serving to help in the recovery and healing process this past week. It is a reaffirmation of how important a role landscape architecture plays in creating a sense of community and in strengthening society.
In closing, I would ask that we all take a moment to remember those who have died and, especially important, love those who are living.