New life at the end of the (Holland) Tunnel

Monday 12 Sep 2011

How 9/11 changed Lower Manhattan for the better

As we approached the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at Ground Zero, much of the focus was naturally on rebuilding the 16-acre site and on remembering those who were tragically killed there. But steps away from this hallowed ground, the area has rebounded in ways not previously imaginable. In the wake of 9/11, Lower Manhattan has become a vibrant neighborhood teeming with new residents and tourists, new restaurants, shops and cultural facilities. Indeed, the area has undergone a remarkable rebirth and has the potential to become one of the great urban centers of the world.

This transformation is the direct result of the events of 9/11. That tragic day in history brought about many positive changes in the neighborhood. For one, it provided the unprecedented opportunity to re-plan the 16- acre superblock that once held the twin towers and return it as vibrant public space. The rebuilding project, while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, has nonetheless allowed this large swath of land, once bereft of any civility, to be refashioned into a more humanely scaled public space with a better mix of uses. While commercial towers still dominate, there is now a memorial, a museum, and a large landscaped area for reflection and response, and for eating lunch and relaxing.

Getting around is better too. Circulation in and around the site has been greatly improved. The massive superblock has been broken down into smaller parcels thanks to the reinstatement of several streets that will cut through the site, thus restoring the grid, making it easier for people and cars to get around while also making the streets livelier and safer. In conjunction with improved pedestrian circulation, the completion of Calatrava’s transit hub and Grimshaw’s neighbouring Fulton Street Transit Center will create a new nexus for public transportation in the area that will serve 11 subway lines and the NJ Path Train. These improvements have also brought a critical core of people to the area that has allowed it to flourish and support new functions.

Beyond the 16 acres, billions of dollars have been invested in the neighbourhood. The area is the beneficiary of new residential towers, new parks, ten new hotels, and an improved waterfront. It is estimated that $24bn dollars has been invested in the neighborhood since 9/11, in the form of construction projects and governmental programs that range from low cost loans to spur private development to tax incentives to retain and attract businesses and residents. Of this, $275m has been invested to create and revitalize the waterfronts. That effort, which includes such projects as the East River Esplanade, a nine-block extension of the Hudson River Park in Tribeca, and the revitalization of the South Street Seaport, will create 10 consecutive miles of boardwalks, green spaces and recreational piers at the tip of Manhattan when completed.

The residential population in the Downtown, which dropped immediately following 9/11, has tripled in the past decade and is expected to grow. Nearly 10 million sq ft of existing office space has been repurposed for residential use and close to 9 million sq ft of new residential space has been added. A new 76-storey residential tower designed by Frank Gehry, itself an ode the twin towers, is one of the products of the area’s rebirth post 9/11 and the first tall building of any consequence to be built in the neighborhood since the twin towers. Of particular note, Battery Park City, a 92-acre mixed-use development complex located at the Hudson River’s edge, which was begun in the mid 1970s, celebrated its full build out last week. And six new public schools have opened in the neighborhood.

Speaking to a Crain’s, New York’s premiere business journal, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Director of the Real Estate Development Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation said: “Downtown is a City Planning 101 success storey. It’s a place where young people want to live and work,” which is key to staying competitive in the global marketplace.

For all that has gone wrong at Ground Zero - from the tossing aside of visionary architecture for mostly banal corporate buildings, save for the memorial and the transit hub, to the constant wrangling that has taken place there - the rebuilding effort has done much good for the city. And in this regard it is a triumph over tragedy.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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United States
Urban design

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