Republicans meet a New York in flux
Yes, echoes of 9/11 linger - but conventioneers will find a resilience bred through time.
Visiting New York for the first time since 9/11, Steve Hostetter aims his tiny camera through a chain-link fence for a picture of ground zero.Skip to next paragraph
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"We had to do it," says the Pennsville, N.J., tourist. He and his wife, Nancy, knew one of the 2,752 victims. "We must never forget."
It's a pilgrimage taken thousands of times each day, by thousands of tourists from across the nation and around the world. But Mr. Hostetter's camera doesn't focus on a smoldering hole of destruction. The landscape here is a construction site - jackhammers shattering concrete so that work can begin on a 1,776 foot "Freedom Tower." By this fall, ironworkers will top off a 52-story skyscraper just outside the World Trade Center footprint.
Now, as an expected 50,000 visitors descend on New York for the Republican National Convention (RNC), they will find a city changing both physically and psychologically. These shifts, more broadly, reflect a transformation under way in the politics and economy of the nation's largest city that is at once creating a new New York and reasserting elements of the old.
As much as anything, this city that has overcome disaster time and again may represent the nation's purest strain of a resilience ingrained in the American character.
"There was anxiety the city would fall off a cliff after 9/11," says historian Mike Wallace of the Gotham Center for New York City History, part of the City University of New York. "But the city is 400 years old, 8 million strong, and it has a tremendous amount of momentum and it's hard to knock off course even with such a blow."
Still, the old towers' shadows loom large, and even in a week of political carnival, the phoenix-like landscape is impossible to ignore. Wary of politicizing the tragedy, cognizant of criticism that it already has, Republicans aren't planning any events around the site. But ground zero - the backdrop to the war on terror - has become synonymous with New York and a symbol of a central campaign theme: Who is best suited to protect the nation?
Many delegates, staying in hotels near the project, will no doubt cross the street and walk through St. Paul's Chapel. They'll see the school children's banners, take in a shrine of 9/11 funeral photos, or read about rescue workers who slept on cots with donated teddy bears.
For months after the attack, massive plywood sheets shielded the site from view. Today, though, the city wants visitors to watch: There are places to look down on the transformation of 16 acres, and depictions of the towers, before and after, hang from mesh-like curtains.
The changes at the site and the symbolism behind it seem to transform those who see it. At St. Paul's, where visitors write prayers and thoughts on a large scroll, messages have evolved from sympathy for victims and celebrations of courage to entreaties for peace. "It's my sense that through their expressions, people are no longer thinking about retaliation and anger but something longer term," says Linda Hanick, director of special projects at the chapel.
In some ways, the very existence of ground zero has altered who comes to New York. Many, like the Hostetters, are tourists, returning in large numbers. But in a change from the many international travelers of the past, tourism is now up from places like Fargo, N.D., and Indianapolis. In one sense, that's a loss: "International visitors stay longer and therefore spend more money," says Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Company, which promotes the city.
Other economic changes in the city have been less subtle. After the attacks, the national economy sank and the dotcom industry, once booming in New York's "Silicon Alley," foundered. "That has not come back," says Rae Rosen, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Pieces of Wall Street have also left, part of a years-long trend. "Given the conviction many people have that New York will be attacked again, some firms have moved their operations outside the blast radius of New York," says Mr. Wallace. "How dramatic it will be, we don't know yet."
Early on, there were concerns that real estate prices would drop, too. And, immediately after 9/11, they did: According to the Corcoran Report, a New York real estate research firm, the average price of a co-op dropped 13 percent.
But the market has proved resilient. According to Corcoran, an East Side one bedroom co-op purchased after 9/11 has appreciated 27 percent.