As New York prepares to observe the ninth anniversary of September 11, state leaders have a message for the world: Life is returning in a very robust way to ground zero.
While much of the world's news media focused on the issue of a mosque near ground zero, a week ago construction cranes hoisted 16 of 400 oak trees onto what will become the plaza of the 9/11 Memorial. Around the 17-acre site, 2,000 hard hats are bent over tasks such as riveting and pouring concrete. One of the giant new towers, which will be 106 stories high, is up to the 36th floor. Officials are keeping their fingers crossed that publisher Conde Nast will soon sign on the dotted line to lease 1 million square feet of space there for its magazine empire.
“So, yes, there is life at ground zero,” said New York Gov. David Paterson on Sept. 7, at a press conference to talk about the progress at the site.
On Saturday, as has been the practice every year since the towers were destroyed by Islamist extremists, the city will observe moments of silence at the exact times the twin towers were hit by the commandeered jets, and then again at the time each fell. Victims' names will be read by relatives and people involved in the construction of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Vice President Joe Biden, among others, will deliver a reading.
“We look forward to showing him the site,” says Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “How we came out of 9/11 can be something that all Americans can be proud of.”
Influx into area
Officials are also pleased that after the attacks, the exodus of people from lower Manhattan not only stopped but reversed itself. Today, some 60,000 people live south of Chambers Street, double the number from 9/11, says Sheldon Silver, state Assembly speaker, who represents the area.
From a leasing standpoint, 250 firms have moved downtown since 9/11.
Larry Silverstein, site developer, says Towers 1 and 4 will be ready for tenants in 2013. At the same time, bids are being let to build Towers 2 and 3.
The construction almost did not happen because of disputes between Mr. Silverstein and a host of other parties, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Today, officials joke about the vitriol.
“I am a child of Italian immigrants, and Italians measure the amount of love they have by the amount of time they spend arguing with each other,” says Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority. “By that measure, Larry and I are very much in love with each other.”
Now that the squabbling is over, officials say the biggest push is to get the 9/11 Memorial ready for next year's 10th anniversary of the attacks.
“There is concrete evidence of the priority,” says Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial.
Workers have finished pouring the concrete forming two giant pools that sit in the former twin towers’ footprints. Sixty-five percent of the granite that will line those pools, which will be part of the largest manmade waterfalls in America, has been hung. And three of the large artifacts – symbols from the attack nine years ago – have been brought to the site of the 9/11 Museum.
Creating a green space
Officials are particularly proud of the ongoing installation of the oak trees on what will be the plaza sited above the museum. They were hand-selected from New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania – the areas directly affected by 9/11.
“For several years they have been residing in a tree nursery in New Jersey and provided with the highest level of care by a team of arborists who are truly dedicated to the project,” says Mr. Daniels.
New trees will be installed each month until all 400 are planted. They will create the green space that will welcome an estimated 5 million visitors to the site each year, Daniels says.
“The plaza will be unlike any other site in New York,” he says. “In essence, it is a giant green roof over the museum’s exhibits below.”
Workers are also racing to finish the museum itself, which will open in 2012. One wing will contain historical exhibitions that will preserve the history of 9/11 by telling the first-person experiences, as well as providing a group narrative of what happened that day.
The museum's second wing is dedicated to the 2,982 victims of both the 9/11 attack and the 1993 bombing of the buildings. Photos will line the walls from floor to ceiling. Families have provided mementos and individual profiles.
“The museum will be the spiritual and emotional heart of the site,” says Mayor Bloomberg.