Downtown: 20 Years After 9/11

Former Community Board 1 chair reflects on all that’s changed since the devastation of Sept. 11, and all that’s still to be done.

| 30 Aug 2021 | 08:44

Two decades ago, our world changed on Tuesday, September 11th with the largest terrorist attack on American soil at the heart of our neighborhood. The loss of many precious lives and destruction of the World Trade Center site and surrounding area was immense and painful.

Six blocks of the site were dedicated to the 9/11 Memorial (dedicated on 9/11/2011) and Museum (opened 5/15/2014). Five years later, the 9/11 Memorial Glade was completed and “dedicated to responders, survivors, workers, and residents – exposed to hazards and toxins in the air at and around the WTC, Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania resulting in chronic illnesses and deaths of thousands.” Around the Memorial Plaza and the pools are more than 400 swamp white oak trees and the Survivors Tree. The tree was very badly damaged on 9/11, but with special care from NYC Parks it is thriving today.

Around the Memorial, the commercial space (10 million square feet previously) was planned. Today the skyline has been restored with the 1776-foot tall 1 WTC along with 3 WTC, 4 WTC and 7 WTC have also been completed. WTC 2 & 5 are in the planning process.

Just south of the Memorial is Liberty Park, an elevated lovely public open space overlooking the Memorial. The Koenig Sphere – meant to symbolize world peace through world trade – stood in the fountain between the twin towers. Through our apartment windows we even saw it when it was found. This iconic sculpture in its unrestored condition was returned to the WTC and rededicated in 2017. It continues to remain a symbol of resilience and survival – a bit dented and crushed, but it made it through. Just east sits the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine which will open next year.

The redevelopment included a major investment in improving public transit and the connection of the PANYNJ PATH and numerous subway lines (1, E, N/R, 4/5, 2/3, A/C, J/Z) and the Fulton Center.

Chorus, by Ann Hamilton, is woven on the wall at the Cortland Street 1 subway station that runs through the WTC Oculus designed by Santiago Calatrava. The text is taken from the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. These words are the foundation of our democracy and are accessible for all to see and touch on its subway platform.

A key component of the Master Plan – which had included extensive community over the years – includes the WTC Performing Arts Center. It sits on the north side of the site and will open in 2023.

It’s remarkable how much has been built in the past two decades at the WTC site, especially considering its sensitivity, jurisdictional complexity (federal, NY and NJ states, city, and agencies), the economic recession of 2008, devastation from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and location in a very dense neighborhood. This public investment has in turn led to much private investment which transformed a mostly commercial area into a thriving 24/7 mixed-use community.

After 9/11, safer and greener buildings were built using environmental performance construction practices. In addition, The World Trade Center Health Program was created to provide medical monitoring and treatment of WTC-related health conditions for 9/11 responders and survivors.

After Sandy, infrastructure was hardened including elevating building infrastructure out of the flood zone and securing subways, tunnels, and utilities. For example, upgrading of the communications network by replacing underground copper wires with fiberoptics made telecommunications faster and more resilient.

Another Rebuild
Now as we rebuild after the global COVID pandemic, we need to follow the concept of once again “Build Back Better” to continue to adapt to a changing world.

Now that the skyline has been restored, it is time to focus on the public domain in the Financial District’s historic core. The Financial District Neighborhood Association has envisioned Make Way for Lower Manhattan. This community-based multi-year report built on prior studies is a call to action for safer and cleaner streets for all who live, work, and visit here. It is based on best practices successfully implemented around the world in other historic districts.

Lower Manhattan is surrounded by water on three sides. As we approach the 9-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy that so devastated downtown, we urgently need to protect what we have built together as we experience the accelerating impacts of climate change.

At a local level the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) project is divided into several compartments: FiDi Seaport Climate Resiliency Plan, Battery Park City Authority and The Battery. These important projects need funding and implementation.

We need to unite again, knowing that what happens here, impacts and influences the world. According to the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must accelerate our adoption of renewable energy and electrify both the transportation and building sectors.

Downtown is where our country and New York City began. The spine of Downtown runs along Broadway, the Canyon of Heroes, which leads to the New York Harbor with a view of the Statue of Liberty, our enduring beacon of hope.

We need to unite again, knowing that what happens here, impacts and influences the world.