In a highly complex, emotionally-charged dispute, how do you build consensus? On October 7th, a distinguished panel considered responses to this question at Negotiating Common Ground: What To Do With the World Trade Center Site, presented by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. The event explored ways in which consensus-building techniques might be used to generate broad-gauged agreement on how to redevelop the former World Trade Center site. The focus was not on what should be done with the site, but rather on the process by which such a decision might be made.
During the first half of the event, several distinguished speakers (including Courtney Cowart of the NYC 9/12 Community, Marcia Van Wagner, Deputy Research Director and Chief Economist at the Citizens Budget Commission, and Hugh Kelly of Hugh Kelly/Real Estate Economics) presented some of the financial, legal, cultural, spiritual, and design constraints involved in redeveloping the site. After the panel presentations, the audience worked in small groups to generate consensus-building ideas in light of the various constraints. The event concluded with commentary from consensus-building specialists Brian Mandell (Lecturer, John F. Kennedy School of Government), Maria Volpe (Director, Dispute Resolution Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY), and Michael Wheeler (Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and Co-Director of the Dispute Resolution Program), and a question-and-answer session. Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at M.I.T. and the Program on Negotiation’s Vice-Chair for Education, moderated the discussion.