What a Reborn Lower Manhattan Looks Like, 15 Years Later

Sep 10, 2016

On the 15th anniversary of the the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Lower Manhattan is a new place. Initial plans for the Ground Zero neighborhood called for establishing a memorial to the fallen, rebuilding the city skyline, and returning the area to its former glory as a financial center. While only the first two came to pass (many major financial institutions did not return), today the neighborhood is reborn, a vibrant enclave bustling with vogueish shops, trendy restaurants and marketplaces, a brand new transportation hub, outdoor and elevated parks, music events, art installations, and waterfront bike paths.

Fifteen years ago, that would have been impossible to conceive. The Twin Towers—those two seemingly invulnerable 110-story pillars that once stood as the most recognizable features in the ubiquitous portrait of New York—were struck by two airplanes and collapsed upon themselves in a chaotic wreck of cement, dust, glass, and metal. Buried in their wake were 2,753 people: workers, commuters, passersby, tourists, and first responders who made up the majority of the 2,977 souls who lost their lives in the four coordinated terrorist attacks on that day in 2001. A city, a nation, a globe united in horror and grief. R escue, recovery, and clean-up of the area took more than six months, ending only when the final piece was removed on May 30, 2002.

The 15 years that followed saw New York City slowly progressing through the stages of grief—d enial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Families of victims who kept vigil for days and weeks near Ground Zero in the hopes their loved ones would be found alive in the rubble finally departed, and the city, shaken to its very foundations, was left to contemplate what would become of Lower Manhattan. The year after clean-up finished, New York held a global design competition to conceive of the memorial that would occupy the site where the towers once stood. The black granite twin reflecting pool design by Architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker (emphasizing deep voids) and surrounding grove of trees (representing rebirth) won. In the end, after two years of construction, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center opened in the spring of 2005.

For the next decade, the city worked gradually to raise the neighborhood up again. In 2003, the Port Authority commissioned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to create a new transportation hub for the World Trade Center site. Though the project carried a hefty price tag, in March 2016, Calatrava’s white marble winged bird finally rose from the site. Inside, the 160-foot body of the bird rises up to a glass and steel spine, which forms the daylit Oculus. As dark as the depths of the adjacent memorial are, the light in Oculus shines just as brightly.

Calatrava’s bird is the perfect metaphor for this phoenix of a neighborhood. After a decade of bickering, design, and construction, One World Trade Center was finally completed in 2013. At an impressive 1,776 feet, it stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere . The rebuilt Fulton Street subway station is filled with shops and restaurants; Brookfield Place (where Money has its office), the former World Financial Center, today is massive luxury shopping mall with a high-end food court and French grocery store. Westfield World Trade Center (connected to the Oculus), opened only this month, has stores ranging from Banana Republic to John Varvatos and the much-celebrated Italian grocery store Eataly.

Bike and walking paths now run along West Street and the waterfront. The elevated Liberty Park that overlooks 1 WTC and the memorial opened on June 29, 2016. Plans are under way for the construction of 2 WTC, a 1,340 foot skyscraper designed by architect Bjarke Ingels that is due to be completed in September 2021. Media companies like Time Inc. and Condé Nast—following tax incentives by the city—moved into the neighborhood. Daily, the area is filled once again with the rich and diverse mix of people that defines the city.

While the absence of the Twin Towers can still be felt in the deep scars of the black granite and the ghostlike twin beams of light that are projected upward each September 11, it is a tribute to the resilience of the city that it can not just heal but can thrive—as exemplified by the transformation of Lower Manhattan.

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