The Housing Chronicles Blog: On Remembering 9/11

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Remembering 9/11

It's very easy for me to remember 9/11 for two reasons: besides the attacks in New York and at The Pentagon in 2001, it's always my younger brother's birthday. So for him, I'm sure, it's a bittersweet day -- one in which he celebrates his own birth today outside of Philadelphia, yet also can't forget the deaths of those in New York and Virginia as well as just 220 miles to the west, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed to the ground near Stonycreek Township instead of into its intended target, the White House.

Two short months after 9/11/2001, I went to visit my older brother for Thanksgiving, who was living in mid-town Manhattan. While he personally didn't know anyone killed at the World Trade Center, he had in fact previously worked in the same section of The Pentagon that had been hit by the third plane.

I had been to NYC a few times before, but this time felt different -- quieter and more reflective. One afternoon, I felt compelled to take the subway down to visit Ground Zero, but neither my brother nor his fiance wanted to accompany me, so I went alone. Since the World Trade Center station was obviously closed, I deliberately chose a couple of stations earlier on the assumption that I'd have some time to get re-acquainted with Lower Manhattan at ground level before moving towards the site.

I was wrong. As I walked up from the subway steps to street level, I was greeted with the still-smoldering ruins of the collapsed buildings. But what I remember most is what I can only describe as the most depressing scent I've ever experienced before -- a combination of chemicals, smoke and death. It's something I hope to never smell again.

To shield the continuing recovery and salvage operation from public view, the city had installed solid plywood fencing around the entire site. For tourists hoping to grab a few shapshots of the carnage, on the fence the NYPD had stenciled "No Photos By Order of the NYPD" every few feet. I took no photos.

As I walked around the perimeter of the site, I noticed the damage to nearby buildings from falling debris -- a hole punched through the glass ceiling of a multi-story atrium here, a huge chunk of another building sliced off there. Throughout the area, family members and friends had posted hundreds of flyers with photos of potential victims and asking "Have You Seen Me?" on almost every available pole and bulletin board. Like the scent which hit me upon walking up from the subway station, this was a sight I would never forget.

Finally, near a wooden flatform area that had been quickly constructed as a sort of gathering place, there were multiple memorials to loved ones. It was at this point that I decided I had seen enough: I wasn't a local, and I had nothing to offer but my curiosity, so I returned to the subway station to return back to mid-town.

During the trip back, lost in my own thoughts, I had no doubt that the city would rebuild and the country would do whatever necessary to protect itself. Ten years later, although the physical and psychological wounds are taking time to heal, they are healing.

The current issue of "The Economist" has a great story on the recovery of Lower Manhattan that brought back these memories of my visit in November of 2001, but there is definitely some good news:

Some 14m square feet (1.3m square metres) of office space was damaged or destroyed and 65,000 jobs were lost or relocated. Hundreds of businesses closed, some permanently. Yet ten years on, the area is doing well. According to the Downtown Alliance, its vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country. The volume of apartment sales has increased by 151% since 2003. The resident population has more than doubled, to 56,000, since 2001. Six new schools have opened there since 2009. Last year almost 10m tourists visited. Many stay at one of the 18 hotels in Lower Manhattan, three times the number in 2001. Though many companies fled in the first two years after the attacks, today there are more downtown than there were in 2001.

The biggest change is at the site itself. After years of construction delays and paralysis, One World Trade Centre, formerly known as “Freedom Tower”, now tops 80 floors. It is beginning to dominate the downtown skyline as the twin towers once did. Still two years from completion, when it will reach 104 storeys, 1m square feet of it is already leased to Condé Nast, a publishing company. The 9/11 museum, meanwhile, will not open till next September; but visitors to the site will soon be able to see two of the steel trident-shaped supports from the original building, which survived and have now been enclosed in the museum’s glass atrium. Seeing them for the first time since they were salvaged from the pulverised buildings is powerfully impressive. Visitors will also be able to see and touch the 70-foot (21.3-metre) underground wall that mercifully held back the Hudson River during the attacks...

You can read the the entire article by clicking here.

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