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Rebuilding NYC - Rebuilding Roundup Archive: May
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Rebuilding Roundup Archive: May

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Friday, May 31

On Thursday at 10:29 a.m. a ringing fire department bell marked the end of the recovery effort at Ground Zero. In a ceremony with no speeches, just the sound of drums and bagpipes, a stretcher carrying an American flag was loaded into an ambulance and the last symbolic piece of rubble -- a 30-foot steel column draped in black cloth -- was removed from the site. Five NYPD helicopters flew over. A procession of firefighters, police officers, volunteers, construction workers, and family members of victims then walked slowly up the West Side highway. Although the debris has been removed, leaving only abandoned train tracks seven stories deep in the crater, the work of identifying the missing continues. Of the 2,823 people who died on September 11, only 1,102 have been identified.

The ceremony came during a week of final tributes at the World Trade Center site. Earlier in the week, Memorial Day events recalled September 11 as New Yorkers came out to honor the military and remember those who died on September 11. Construction workers cut down the last standing piece of the World Trade Center, a 58-ton piece of steel from the south tower that featured in Thursday's ceremony. The steel girder had been left standing at the site over the past nine months as a tribute to the towers and an inspiration for the recovery workers. On Sunday, families of the victims who were unable to attend the proceedings on Thursday will hold their own ceremony at Ground Zero to mark the end of the recovery effort.

While the city paused to commemorate the end of the cleanup and recovery, city officials tried to bargain with Washington for more federal aid. Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff wrote a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the city's Congressional representatives requesting that the agency be permitted to cover more of the costs related to the rebuilding effort. Strict regulations limit the emergency agency to paying for direct cleanup-related expenses rather than covering the indirect economic impacts of most disasters. Doctoroff's letter argues that restrictions should be loosened so that the agency can provide $4 billion for enhancing Lower Manhattan's infrastructure, rather than just replacing and repairing transportation lines damaged in the attacks.

Friday, May 24

This week, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority held their first public hearing to listen to ideas about the future of Lower Manhattan. Among the hundreds who attended, each of them limited to three minutes of testimony, were survivors of the terrorist attack and family members of the victims, residents of Lower Manhattan and those who worked there, architects and planners, and people who simply thought they had good ideas. Some criticized the efforts of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, saying that more attention needed to be paid to health concerns in the neighborhoods around Ground Zero and the interests of lower-wage workers and residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Many speakers called for constructing buildings as high or higher than the Twin Towers, while some described ideas for memorial designs and held up drawings of their designs. The public hearing is the first of five scheduled this year, with the next one set for July 20 at the Jacob Javits Center.

The hearing came the day after the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority selected Beyer Blinder Belle, the design firm that oversaw the restoration of Grand Central Terminal, as the urban planning consultant to oversee the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. While Beyer Blinder Belle will draft up to six different plans for street grids and transportation ideas by July 1, the proposals are not expected to include designs for buildings or a memorial. "At the end of this process, we will not have a detailed architectural and engineering plan," said Port Authority chief engineer Frank Lombardi. "We will have a framework that gives us a roadmap of the site. Then we can start thinking about the individual components - the buildings, a memorial - and what they might look like."

While there is sure to be strong debate over the design of the memorial, a consensus is emerging among groups representing victims' families about how much land a memorial should occupy. Rather than calling for the entire 16-acre site to be devoted to a memorial, a coalition of eight family groups proposed this week that the memorial take up a total of seven acres -- the footprints of the towers and the space inside the current retaining wall of the site.

Finally, city officials increased security in parts of the city this week after the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that there was a threat against famous landmarks in the city, including the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The police department, responding to information acquired by federal officials from a captured Al-Qaeda leader, began checking cars going over the bridge, and the city cancelled an anniversary celebration for the Brooklyn Bridge. The Coast Guard began enforcing a restricted zone around Navy warships docked in the Hudson River for Fleet Week.

Friday, May 17

This week Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki announced that a ceremony will be held on May 30 to mark the end of the recovery and cleanup at Ground Zero. The ceremony will be open to families of the victims of the attacks and those who worked at the site, with free tickets to be distributed next week. During the ceremony, workers will carry the last steel beam out of the site, while an empty stretcher representing the unrecovered bodies and draped in an American flag will be carried out of the site and into an ambulance

With the recovery and cleanup phase almost over, architects unveiled their plans for 7 World Trade Center this week. The new building is planned to be 52 stories tall (five stories taller than the one it is replacing) and will include a transparent, "light-emanating shaft" designed as a gateway to the planned World Trade Center memorial. The building is scheduled for completion at the end of 2005.

The Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation issued a timeline with specific dates for public comment on the future of the World Trade Center and surrounding areas. Their first public hearing will be at Pace University on May 23, and it will be the first of at least five hearings held jointly by the two agencies to seek public input into the future of the area. The timeline also says that in July, September and December, the two agencies will announce specific development proposals, with a public comment period following each announcement.

While officials and the public consider the future of Ground Zero, Lower Manhattan will play host to another festival intended to rejuvenate the area. On the heels of the highly successful Tribeca Film Festival, American Express announced the Downtown N.Y.C. River-to-River Festival 2002. The festival, which bills itself as the "Largest Free Arts Festival in NYC History," will include performances by Sheryl Crow and Wynton Marsalis.

Friday, May 10

Workers began excavation at the site of 7 World Trade Center this week. These first steps are intended to examine the conditions at the site and to get a sense of what the foundation will look like. The official groundbreaking will not occur until sometime in mid-June. While civic groups and victims' relatives have expressed concern about rebuilding so quickly, officials say that starting construction on 7 World Trade Center, which will house electricity substations for Con Edison, is essential for meeting the energy needs of Lower Manhattan in summer of 2003.

Thirteen groups submitted their general proposals to the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to develop the World Trade Center site. The groups included over 50 urban design, architecture and transportation planning firms. The applications did not include specific street layouts or plans for what the area will look like. For now, the teams offered general development outlines, listed their qualifications and gave estimates of the cost. In two weeks, the two agencies will pick one of these groups to come up with concrete plans for the site. The selected group will then come up with six specific proposals by July 1.

The Environmental Protection Agency said this week that it would lead an effort to clean up and test the air quality inside apartments south of Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. Until now, the federal agency had said that it was not responsible for assessing air quality indoors. Starting June 1, residents in the designated area can call a phone number set up by the agency and request that their apartment be cleaned by a professional certified cleanup company and tested for asbestos.

Finally, the first annual Tribeca Film Festival began on Wednesday with a ceremony in front of City Hall featuring movie stars and former presidents (Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela). The festival, which runs until Sunday, brings hopes that it will revitalize the neighborhoods with its 155 films and numerous panel discussions. Attendees are expected to fill up as many as 10,000 hotel rooms and consume 40,000 meals. "The important thing," said one official, "is to bring people back to Lower Manhattan. We need the foot traffic."

Friday, May 3

Two reports published this week presented further evidence of the impact September 11 has had on New Yorkers throughout all five boroughs. A study by the United Way of New York City said that thousands of New Yorkers who lost their jobs as a result of September 11 are ineligible for aid because they did not work in Lower Manhattan - even aviation industry employees working in Queens who lost their jobs after post-September 11 airline cuts. A Board of Education report revealed that thousands of New York City children in 4th through 12th grades are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

At Ground Zero, while the cleanup effort heads into its last stages, investigations into the collapse of the two towers have produced the first official preliminary report. Commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the report confirms widely-held theories that the fires from the jet fuel in the planes were ultimately what brought down the towers. Rather than recommending funds for preparing buildings from future airplane attacks, the panel behind the report recommends that funds be used for better airline and airport security. They also suggested starting an even more comprehensive investigation beyond the work already completed.

Along with the investigation into the towers' collapse, officials in Washington also addressed the issue of federal emergency relief to New York City. The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that 7,000 applications for emergency relief that were initially rejected will now be reevaluated. Those who were rejected included hundreds of Chinatown seamstresses and Manhattan hotel workers, many of them with claims to aid that seemed legitimate. Two local members of Congress criticized the agency for not providing relief to the Board of Education for classroom time lost due to the attacks.

Finally, the Civic Alliance, a coalition of civic and urban planning groups involved in rebuilding, released their intial recommendations for rebuilding downtown at the Regional Plan Association's Regional Assembly, an annual conference of urban planners. In the report they criticize the use of relief funds for direct grants to individuals and businesses. Instead they recommend investing the money in transit improvements.

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