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Three Years of Rebuilding


The day after his speech at the Republican National Convention, which was largely about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was questioned by a group of delegates from Iowa, who asked whether New Yorkers have been able to recover from 9/11 as quickly as the rest of the nation.

New Yorkers, being closer to the events, are supposed to be more emotional about the attack, Giuliani reportedly replied, and people outside the city are supposed to feel it less. "But," Giuliani said, "I've found in traveling that it's maybe just the opposite."

And indeed, the delegates who streamed to Ground Zero described wrenching visits to the place where their country was attacked. New Yorkers, on the other hand, had a more complicated set of reactions. Some looked at all the attention given to 9/11 at the convention (Giuliani's speech was only one of several to focus on it), and expressed outrage at what they saw as the exploitation of their city's tragedy for partisan advantage.

Others simply are in a different place than the out-of-towners who have not had to live close by for the past three years. "People who weren't here, it's a big deal in a different way to them than for people who were here on that day," said Maryhope Howland, who was evacuated from her apartment in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. While she, along with many New Yorkers, marked with great solemnity the first anniversary of the attack, she did little to mark the date one year later. She will be spending September 11, 2004 celebrating a friend's wedding. "It's not like 9/11 occurs to me every day, " she said. "But it has changed everything."

The emotional reaction is not all that separates New Yorkers from other Americans. The convention focused 9/11 on issues of national defense. Certainly, with New York remaining the most likely target for terrorism within the United States, New York officials and residents understand strident arguments for tight security. At the same time, though, as the city with the largest and most diverse immigrant population, many of whom have suffered as a result of harsh security measures, the importance of civil liberties also hits close to home. And, as a famously liberal city, many New Yorkers are at the forefront of the protest movement against the war in Iraq.

To the nation at large, 9/11 evoked a response that seems largely concerned with protecting and preventing. New Yorkers since 9/11 have focused on rebuilding, and security is only one issue in the rebuilding effort. A half dozen questions have faced New Yorkers over the past three years, questions that have yet to be fully answered:

    1. Ground Zero
      What will Ground Zero look like when it is completely built up?
      The major architectural elements for Ground Zero have been designed, but funding issues threaten the redevelopment, which is not scheduled to be completed until 2015.

    2. Transportation
      How did the attack transform transportation to and around lower Manhattan?
      Public transportation to lower Manhattan has been repaired, and major plans to improve it are underway, though debate continues over additional projects.

    3. Economic Impact
      Has New York's economy really recovered from 9/11?
      The city has pulled out of a two-and-a-half year recession, but full recovery is uncertain.

    4. Federal Aid
      Will the enormous federal aid package ever reach the city?
      Over half of the $20 billion pledged to New York has arrived, but the city will not receive the entire amount promised to it for at least five years, if at all.

    5. Security
      Is New York, and the country as a whole, capable of preventing and responding to future terrorist attacks?
      Facing criticism of its capabilities and a shortfall in funding, the city continues to prepare itself to prevent and respond to future terrorist attacks.

    6. Health and Environment
      What are the long-term environmental and health effects that will come as the result of the collapse of the Twin Towers?
      Scientists dispute what will happen in the future, while it has become clear that the Environmental Protection Agency performed badly in the days after the attacks.

    Next Page: Ground Zero

    Ground Zero


    Thousands of New Yorkers became interested in urban planning because of 9/11, a phenomenon that startled many urban planners. A project of such large scale that had to incorporate the opinions of a vast number of people sparked serious debate on several levels. Some saw the need to build quickly; others wanted to pause and reflect. With emotional appeals arguing both for leaving the site empty and rebuilding the towers exactly, the difficulty of finding consensus was apparent.

    The job was given to a newly formed governmental agency, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which had to find a way to produce a tangible plan out of the conceptual debate. New Yorkers roundly rejected its first attempt.

    It was over a year after the attacks that an international competition yielded a master plan for the site, and architects began working on the different pieces of the development. But one year ago, New Yorkers still had little idea what a redeveloped Ground Zero would actually look like.

    That changed over a ten-week span starting in November 2003, when the three major pieces of architecture for Ground Zero were presented to the public:

    Eight finalists out of 5,201 entries in the international competition to design a memorial for Ground Zero were picked in November. The winner, a young architect named Michael Arad, designed two sunken pools for the sites where the Twin Towers had stood, surrounded by an austere plaza. Two weeks after its selection in January, Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker revised the plan to address criticisms that it was creating a cold, bare space. The pools remain the central feature of the plan, but they are now to be surrounded by a lush garden of trees and plantings.

    Freedom Tower:
    Aside from the memorial, the highlight of Daniel Libeskind's master plan for Ground Zero was a 1,776 foot tower , with an asymmetrical spire meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty. In late December, Libeskind, along with David Childs, an architect working for developer Larry Silverstein, presented the Freedom Tower -- a twisting skyscraper topped by a huge open air space, enclosed in cables, holding huge windmills which would produce 20 percent of the building's energy. While the two men claimed to have worked together, the building was much larger than Libeskind's original vision, and many believed Libeskind had been sidelined in its design.

    Transportation Hub:
    While both the Freedom Tower and the memorial have had their share of critics, the transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava has been met with near unanimous acclaim. Calatrava presented his building - a steel and glass structure flanked by two enormous glass wings that move to allow the roof to open - in January.

    With the major elements of the master plan firmed up, the symbolic beginning to construction at Ground Zero took place on July 4, when the cornerstone to the Freedom Tower was put in place at Ground Zero. Governor George Pataki - who has adopted the speedy rebuilding of the site as a priority of his administration - heralded the event as the start of the next stage in the site's rebirth. But skeptics see troubling uncertainty in the site's future.

    Libeskind's master plan, some say, has lost the primacy that it held soon after winning the international competition to design the site. Different architects have chipped away at the plan, replacing some of its key elements with their own visions as they design portions of it. Designs for the two planned cultural buildings, to be decided upon soon, could continue to move away from the plan. Libeskind himself is competing to design one of these buildings, which would, presumably, keep in line with his original vision.

    Whether architectural changes are an evolution of erosion of Libeskind's plan is a point of debate, and even if the architect is losing traction it doesn't pose a fundamental threat to the site. More dangerous, some worry, is the increasing lack of clarity about how Ground Zero's development will be paid for.

    In May, a court decision over how much insurance money Larry Silverstein will get because of 9/11 dealt the developer a big blow. Silverstein, who was seeking about $7.1 billion in insurance funds, suddenly would get no more than $4.5 billion. He said that the court verdict would not limit his ability to redevelop Ground Zero; the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the government agency in charge of the redevelopment, backed his claim. Others expressed skepticism that Silverstein would be able to pay for the entire site's development.

    The financing for the major elements of the plan - the Freedom Tower, the memorial, the transportation hub, and the cultural buildings - will be unaffected by the lawsuit. But when the other four office towers will be built, and whether it will be Silverstein who builds them, is in doubt. Some don't think this is necessarily a bad thing.

    Next Page: Transportation

    Health and Environment


    How the collapse of the Twin Towers will impact the long term health of New Yorkers is probably the most open-ended question remaining three years after the attack.

    Within a week of 9/11, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that lower Manhattan residents were not at risk from the dust created by the collapse of the Twin Towers. Residents and businesses were told to clean dust from their apartments and wash ash-covered clothing separately, but rescue workers at the site were the only ones facing a real health risk.

    In a report (in pdf format) issued last summer, the agency acknowledged that the White House's Council on Environmental Quality had "influenced, through the collaboration process, the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

    The agency has received widespread criticism for these reassurances, and its subsequent cleanup in lower Manhattan.

    Partially in response to this criticism, the Environmental Protection Agency established a panel to examine its own performance after 9/11, and look for unmet health needs that stem from the attack. It has started meeting, and over the next two years will develop a list of non-binding recommendations for the agency.

    The city introduced a health registry to track the health of those who may have been affected by the disease. It has attracted over 50,000 people, whose health will be monitored, but not offered medical care.

    These efforts have been met with various levels of cynicism - especially from those who have gotten sick.

    A study published earlier this year referred to the collapse of the Twin Towers as the "largest acute environmental disaster that has ever befallen New York City." Still, the extent to which the disaster will affect the health of New Yorkers remains uncertain.

    ""The problem we have now is we don't know the long term, lifetime, health consequences. We just don't know, " said Paul Lioy of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.

    The major health problems that have been linked to 9/11 are respiratory diseases like asthma, with some cases proving to be chronic. Nasal and sinus problems and gastrointestinal problems have also been tied to the attack. While no link to cancer has yet been found, and studies have found little danger of people developing cancer due to exposure to dust from the towers, some rescue workers who have developed the disease since 9/11 attribute their illnesses to the attacks.

    New Yorkers also continue to suffer emotionally. A significant number of people developed post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after the attacks, and one Brooklyn hospital even saw a distinct rise in heart attacks, which its researchers attributed to post 9/11 stress.

    Emotional problems have been on the decline since about six months after the attack, said Dr. Spencer Eth, director of the department of psychology at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center. The center has seen about 50,000 patients due to 9/11.

    But over the last week, with the stress of the Republican National Convention, St. Vincent's has had to expand its hours to deal with increasing numbers of patients. Many thought they had recovered emotionally from 9/11, only to have their symptoms return.

    "Right now, the conditions are there for the people to have that kind of flashback. Susceptible people will," said Eth. "The weather is warm and there are all these heavily armed people patrolling the streets."

    A similar spike occurred after the crash of the Staten Island Ferry last year. Eth believes that these instances indicate a sensitivity that is part of a permanent shift in the psyche of New Yorkers.

    "If you talk to people in Florida who have been through hurricanes, when the wind starts blowing, they get nervous; that lasts for years and years and years. People in southern California go on alert when they sense an earthquake, when the ground trembles a little bit," he said. "I think people in New York have been sensitized in the same way."

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