On this anniversary of that horrible morning six years ago, perhaps we are starting to see some good rising from the ashes. The southern part of the island of Manhattan, which used to turn into a ghost town after work, is starting to take on some of the characteristics of many of the other neighborhoods in New York City — what University of Michigan architecture and urban design professor Christopher B. Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism“:
From an urban planning point of view it means a place where, within a quarter- to half-mile radius, you can get pretty much everything you need and maybe even walk to work.
According to the New York Times, the financial district is becoming home to a considerable residential population — albeit tilted toward the wealthy — but this permanent population enriches many other aspects of the area:
Optimism abounds now among developers and merchants, who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into real estate along the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan. They are counting on the district, in its next incarnation, to be not just a collection of office towers and trading floors, but also a self-sustaining residential neighborhood that will appeal to families.
Back before the World Trade Center was built starting in the late 1960s, the area where it stood was known as an electronics district — my dad used to go there in the 1930s to find parts for radios. The first retail television set was sold there.
The Twin Towers were not a good addition to the financial district from a livability point of view; one of the main goals of the reconstruction there has been to “recreate the grid”; that is, the various smaller blocks that used to be there, the kind that make up the vibrant street life that Jane Jacobs first discussed in her classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
And how did this revival come about? It is quite possible that it would not have happened, or at least not at the level now seen, without some considerable governmental assistance. According to the N.Y. Times:
The rebound is a testament to the healing power of billions of dollars in government aid, like the federal Liberty Bond program, which provided more than $6 billion in tax-exempt financing for reconstruction downtown, as well as various rent and wage subsidies from redevelopment agencies.
The horror of 9/11 was so great that talk of letting the market handle the problem was not seriously considered. With the government stepping in to first create the infrastructure and residential community, the market is now able to take over and help grow a self-sustaining process.
Might the reconstruction of Ground Zero have some positive lessons for the whole planet?