Gotham Gazette

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Working Together Toward Recovery

The New York City Partnership recently issued a sector-by-sector report on the economic impact of the September 11th attack on our City. The findings of the report are sobering. In addition to the human suffering caused by the attack, the report found that the net damage to the New York City economy is likely to be at least $16 billion. This damage, while concentrated Downtown, will result in a net loss of 57,000 jobs throughout the City by the end of 2003. The impact of the attack will be felt most in the financial services, tourism and retail industries.

In addition to describing the economic devastation caused by the attack, the report sets forth a series of recommendations as to how we should respond. It notes that we have the chance to create a new and improved Downtown while appropriately honoring the victims of September 11th. In publishing this report, the New York City Partnership has begun a conversation in which other civic organizations and the public at large must be active participants. Indeed, as the title of the report stresses, our ability to ensure that the City remains the Capital of the World depends on the capacity of the leaders of our City to keep "Working Together to Accelerate New York's Recovery." Building on the recommendations in the report, we suggest a few ways in which this can be accomplished.

We Must Work Together In The Planning Process. With our wounds still raw, civic leaders must commit to open proceedings so that New Yorkers from all five boroughs will have a voice in the reconstruction of our City. John Whitehead, the chair of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation, is appointing advisory committees to represent diverse groups such as the families of victims, local residents and local businesses. This is a great start.

But we cannot forget that the attack rippled through all of our communities and we must consider all of its effects. In "Back to Work," The Community Service Society of New York has evaluated the effects the attack had upon "working people, particularly low-wage workers, and the communities of color in all the five boroughs." In addition, Professors Dennis Derryck and Rikki Abzug at the New School University have recently outlined the negative impactof the September 11th attack on grassroots not-for-profits throughout the City. Without losing focus on Downtown, we must ensure that plans for its reconstruction are coordinated with development plans for the entire City. And, we must have a forum for these City-wide concerns to be aired and addressed as well as those concerns specific to Downtown.

Transparent proceedings relating to the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site itself are particularly important. They will go a long way toward addressing the concern that so much power is to be concentrated in a quasi-public agency, the Redevelopment Corporation. The Redevelopment Corporation will by its nature be able to bypass certain types of public review, particularly environmental review. By allowing for significant public input in the planning process, concerns that an expedited reconstruction plan are not subject to formal land use and environmental review will be met. It will also ensure that a broad segment of the public will have a strong emotional investment in the final outcome.

A broad consensus is important because we New Yorkers have a long history of allowing turf battles (look no farther than the stalled development of Governor's Island for an example) to interfere with the furtherance of our civic goals. Such turf battles can lead to significant delays in important projects. That cannot happen here. The stakes are too high for all of us. A good first step is for the leaders of both parties to publicly commit to a shared agenda for the development process and set an example of unity for other New Yorkers to follow. Indeed, knowing that Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Senators Schumer and Clinton, Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Bruno agreed on a broad outline for redevelopment would go a long way toward convincing the public that the reconstruction will proceed apace.

We Must Work Together To Act Quickly.As a result of the September 11th attacks, there is an extraordinary amount of goodwill toward our City across the country and at all levels of government. But if we do not move forward in a timely and responsible manner, much of that goodwill may dry up or be overtaken by other urgent concerns such as the war on terrorism. Not surprisingly then, the Partnership report calls for the immediate initiation of a master planning process for Downtown so that we can begin to rebuild as soon as the clean-up process permits. This is key, particularly now that the clean-up is coming to an end much sooner than we expected. We must demonstrate to the world that we are making meaningful progress on a thoughtful reconstruction plan so that others remain committed to our cause.

We Must Work Together To Build 21st Century Infrastructure.As the Partnership report indicates, the most important part of the rebuilding process will be to quickly restore the confidence of the public and of private industry in government's ability to provide the necessary security and resources that Downtown needs. As Partnership President Kathryn Wylde recently noted, legislation must be passed that empowers government agencies to facilitate the efforts of the various utilities and municipal actors to build new infrastructure efficiently.

In planning the reconstruction, we must recognize that the Downtown infrastructure was inadequate prior to September 11th. Only a well thought-out plan for the revitalization of the power, telecom and transportation systems will make Downtown attractive again and stem its ever-expanding corporate diaspora. That being the case, we ought to explore big ideas, such as the extension of MetroNorth and the Long Island Railroad to Downtown. We have the rare opportunity to build a 21st century infrastructure in the middle of an established community. Let us make the most of it.

We Must Work Together Creatively.As the report indicates, a significant portion of the focus of Downtown development must be on reestablishing the financial services sector. But, given that many believe that the City does not need many millions of additional square feet of office space in the next few years, the Redevelopment Corporation must explore creative anchors for redevelopment. The increasing importance of cultural institutions to Downtown, as evidenced by such institutions as the recently built Museum of Jewish Heritage, the forthcoming Irish Hunger Memorial and the proposed Guggenheim Museum, indicate that a cultural focus may be appropriate. The suggested move of City Opera to the Downtown area sounds like a step in the right direction.

There has already been a great deal of soul searching and creative ferment as to what type of memorial is appropriate for the hallowed ground at the World Trade Center site. Thought should also be given to the creation of a living memorial, one that responds to the depraved violence of September 11th with our fundamental values. One suggestion is to move the United Nations to Downtown. Indeed, the UN, dedicated to the eradication of violence throughout the world, might be the greatest monument of all to the victims of September 11th.

We can do something new and wonderful for the future while also honoring those we have lost. But we can only do so if we work together.

David Reiss and Mathew Kleiner are New York natives. Reiss, a real estate lawyer at the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, was a candidate for City Council this past year. Kleiner, a former assistant district attorney, was his campaign manager.

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