Rebuilding Ground Zero was a mess. Lower Manhattan bloomed anyway.

The architects Michael Manfredi and Marion Weiss started to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Others started to cycle. For a time, a small f...


The architects Michael Manfredi and Marion Weiss started to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Others started to cycle. For a time, a small flotilla, similar to Dunkirk, carried neighbors across the East River, colonizing the waterways as a sixth district.

After September 11, New Yorkers did what they do: get by, improvise, meet in public spaces, reinvent the city. Two decades later, Lower Manhattan, still under construction, is largely better than it used to be. The outcome seemed unlikely for some time. The reconstruction at Ground Zero has been a mess and remains a huge missed opportunity.

But it may well be to be the mess, not the memorial or office towers – half designed to jumpstart the economy, half like the middle finger lifted from Osama bin Laden – which ended up being the ultimate 9/11 response and emblem of resilience from New York.

Building cities in a fractured democracy is a slow, faltering, multi-pronged process, after all. The southern tip of what the Lenapes called Mannahatta has been contested territory and a civic petri dish since the morning of September 1609, when a community of Lenape watched a Dutch ship, carrying Henry Hudson, cross the Narrows.

Following another September morning, New York City has become less Manhattan-centric since the attack on the Twin Towers, less of a spoke hub and more multi-nodal, accelerating the booms of Brooklyn and Queens. The old model of urban economy, agglomerated vertically in a handful of downtown skyscrapers, has gradually given way to a broader vision of mobility, remote access and work-life districts. After September 11, supporters of walking, cycling, transit and public space began to find allies on Wall Street and at City Hall, those who recognized the viability of Lower Manhattan depended on more than a memorial and the commercial skyscrapers where the Twin Towers were located.

It was about attracting highly skilled workers who gravitated more and more to bustling streets, rejuvenated waterfronts, iconic parks, bike paths, and plenty of dining and entertainment options.

“For us and many of our friends who started crossing the bridge,” as Manfredi says, “September 11 fundamentally changed our view of the city.

A new urbanism has started to emerge from the rubble, in other words – but in tandem with new challenges around affordable housing, widening income gaps and also climate change, on which few authorities or the media are concerned. concentrated 20 years ago. Headlines and official plans after 9/11 were obsessed with landmarks and checkpoints, collective security and preventing more truck bombs and hijacked planes. They focused on appeals from the families of grieving victims, some of whom lobbied to transform the entire 16-acre site where the towers had stood into a memorial.

Authorities have struggled to reconcile the families’ demands with the Herculean task of restoring the city center. New York Governor George E. Pataki, looking for a way to the White House, rushed to sort out the fate of Ground Zero. In June 2002, he was engaged in a huge memorial occupying the footprints of fallen towers, surrounded by new skyscrapers. When the city’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, proposed housing and schools instead, next to a more modest memorial – reasonably arguing that a living and breathing neighborhood could make a better memorial and respond to terrorists – it was shouted.

“The combination of big bucks, top-notch real estate, bottomless heartbreak, artistic ego and legacy dreams has turned Zero Point into a mosh pit of stakeholders bumping their heads on billion in federal aid, tax breaks and insurance products, “as Deborah Sontag written in the Times on the fifth anniversary of September 11.

Despite this, New Yorkers and city leaders pursued their own plans. By the mid-1990s, residential conversion incentives undertaken by the Giuliani administration, along with the efforts of groups like the Downtown Alliance, had already begun to rethink Lower Manhattan as more of a work district, an evolution of the Bloomberg administration and Lower Manhattan. Manhattan Development Corporation then encouraged after the fall of the Twin Towers, channeling federal salvage money and other resources into housing, schools, renovations to the East River Esplanade and Hudson River Park.

Despite the doom prophets who predicted that no one would ever live or work in high-rise buildings or in the neighborhood again, the residential population of the neighborhood triple to something like 70,000 after September. 11.

As for the site of the World Trade Center, it is by a coincidence of history, six weeks before September 11, that the promoter Larry A. Silverstein took the title of a lease of 99 years on the property, n ‘ bringing that $ 14 million of his own money. After the attack, Governor Pataki and the Port Authority, seeing crucial revenues in commercial development, decided to honor Silverstein’s lease – prioritizing the desire of a private businessman to build million square feet of Class A office space on other possible zero results.

I will not dwell on all the public money spent on the construction of the Stegosaurus-shaped PATH station and the underground mall. called the Oculus by architect Santiago Calatrava, a visually spectacular $ 4 billion vanity project from the Port Authority. It’s a shame that plans have been canceled to dig a tunnel to divert traffic and narrow the freeway known as West Street, which cuts through Lower Manhattan, separating the mall from Battery Park City.

It was a good idea. But Goldman Sachs opposed it.

A few decent commercial buildings have been built, including 7 World Trade Center by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and the immaculate 4 World Trade Center by Maki and Associates, with its crinkled corners and reflective facade that almost dematerializes on the horizon. . His calm seems an implicit response to violence and grief.

Next to it, the more muscular 3 World Trade Center of Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners, corseted by steel straps, moves back and goes up 80 floors. Between it and 4 World Trade passes one of the restored streets that connected the site of the World Trade Center to the rest of Lower Manhattan, which disappeared during the construction of the Twin Towers. The restoration of the streets was an attempt to reconstitute the urban fabric and integrate the neighborhood.

But the entire mall site still feels like a foreign zone, cordoned off by security, with office buildings around a park whose design and policing tend to thwart the joy, if not the eating a sandwich at lunchtime. The September 11 Memorial and Museum, with its vocabulary of voids and negative spaces, draws crowds of tourists, but seems more suited to the Washington Mall than to downtown Manhattan.

Two decades is barely the wingbeat of a hummingbird when the city was built. In the 18th century, American settlers began to poison their own supply of fresh water. They built toxic tanneries along the shore of Collect Pond, which for centuries had supplied the Lenapes with drinking water.

Outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever killed thousands of Americans before Aaron Burr persuaded city leaders to back his new venture, the Manhattan Company, which tore down the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets and laid miles of log pipes to provide clean water.

But the Manhattan Company was more concerned with accumulating capital than protecting the public. Today the Manhattan Company is JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank. When the log pipes failed, New Yorkers had to build a new infrastructure of reservoirs and aqueducts to obtain potable water, which, by the turn of the 20th century, had sowed, among other things, the creation of Central Park, the development of Midtown Manhattan around the 42nd Street Library and neighborhoods across the island.

Eventually, in other words, the Collect Pond crisis helped give birth to the modern banking system and what we now recognize as New York City. Progress takes not only time, but also unforeseen forms.

Lower Manhattan now has the worst air quality and the highest noise levels in the city due to traffic jams. Since September 11, City Hall has failed to add much-needed affordable housing to the neighborhood. And in an old waterfront neighborhood with little protection from rising seas, climate change presents an existential challenge that overshadows reconstruction at Ground Zero.

But this set of problems is also a legacy of September 11. The conversation evolved. After Super Storm Sandy in 2012, a plan called Big U to cover miles of the region’s waterfront against rising seas began to weave its way through the city’s bureaucratic maze. In the service of the inhabitants of the district, a weekly farmer’s market colonized the place under the flying ribs of the Stegosaurus of Calatrava. With the closure of offices in the event of a pandemic, there is increasing talk of converting more commercial buildings into residences.

Plans for a Freedom Center and a cultural program at Ground Zero were canceled two decades ago when Pataki bowed to right-wing protests, but the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, in a building designed by the REX company, is now scheduled to open in 2023. And better late than never, the still underdeveloped World Trade Center plot formerly occupied by Deutsche Bank is set to become a high-rise apartment building (with subsidized units).

Other dreams of remaking Lower Manhattan today include proposals from organizations like the Financial District Neighborhood Association to institute open streets, shared by cars and pedestrians, and to green the area between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall.

The concept describes 21st-century Lower Manhattan as a sort of elevated version of the Marais in Paris or the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona.

“We barely managed to perfect it,” replied Carl Weisbrod, the city’s former town planning commissioner, when asked to summarize what he and other officials involved in the reconstruction have accomplished. after September 11. “Overall the area is better than it used to be – we are more right than wrong.

Weiss, the architect, explained it another way: “People periodically declare that New York is over – they did it with 9/11, the financial crisis, Hurricane Sandy, now Covid – but the city endures.

“It turns out that every crisis,” she added, “is a rebirth”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Rebuilding Ground Zero was a mess. Lower Manhattan bloomed anyway.
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