Conflicts & War

New York, a wounded but changed city 20 years after 9/11 attack

By Helen Cook

New York, Sep 6 (EFE).- It is undeniable that New York continues to shudder every time the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are recalled – the suicide attack 20 years ago with passenger jets that killed about 3,000 people and brought down the Twin Towers – but the city has also learned to look toward the future and to rebuild itself almost completely after the sudden Islamist strike that changed the world.

With just a few days to go before the 20th anniversary of the attack, the images of success, now being projected onto an enormous screen some 400 meters (yards) from where the Twin Towers once stood, are rather tough for some people to view.

Saying that she was sorry but she couldn’t watch it, one New York lady moved away from others who had gathered in Rockefeller Park to watch one of the chapters in the new documentary series by Spike Lee titled “NYC Epicenters: 9/11-2021 1/2,” which sets forth minute by minute what happened on that horrific day.

A good portion of the viewers are visibly affected by what they see, covering their faces, wiping their eyes and ducking their heads every time images of people hurling themselves from the upper floors of the Twin Towers as approaching flames and smoke gave them no hope of survival, or when the sound of their bodies hitting the ground is heard on the film.

The pain and sadness aroused by the memories of that day in 2001 contrast with the current reality of an energetic New York that has been reinventing itself year after year and leaving the worst moments in its history farther and farther behind.

One of the first changes that the city made after the attack was to implement stringent security measures that lasted for two decades both in the area around Ground Zero and on New York public transport.

The plaza where the memorial to the victims is located is surrounded by police stations, bollards to divert traffic, metal barriers and, in some spots, signs that inform the public that the presence of pedestrians is forbidden, unmistakable proof of the deep-seated concern over the possibility of another large-scale terrorist attack.

On New York public transit, the “If you see something, say something” campaign is a constant reminder to passengers to alert the authorities if they spot suspicious activity or unattended packages or bags that could contain a bomb.

The phrase was conceived of on Sept. 12, 2001, and was adopted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority a few months later for the campaign, and since then it has been an ongoing source of anxiety for people using public transit, reminding them incessantly of the danger of another terrorist attack.

The director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Jeff Schlegelmilch, said that the campaign has been effective, preventing – for example – a car-bomb attack on Times Square in 2010.

Nevertheless, he said, New Yorkers are deceiving themselves if they think that something like 9/11 couldn’t happen again.

Even more visible two decades later is, against all forecasts, the proliferation of new skyscrapers despite the fact that this kind of structure definitely is one of society’s Achilles heels.

The founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum, Carol Willis, told EFE that after 9/11 the almost universal opinion of commentators and experts was that no more skyscrapers would be built, that people were too scared to work or live in them and that banks would be afraid to loan money for that type of construction project.

But nothing could be further from the current reality, because – Willis said – these buildings have multiplied in the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia, as well as in the Big Apple itself.

And they are not only office buildings, as the majority of them were in 2001, but rather they also include apartments that are being snapped up by people with enough money to afford them.

Twenty years after 9/11, New York has more super skyscrapers – which the museum defines as buildings more than 300 meters (984 feet) high – than any other city in the world, Willis said.

In all, seven of these buildings are over 380 meters (1,246 feet) high and 17 are over 300 meters.

In the Big Apple’s Financial District, where the Twin Towers stood, not only the skyline has been modified in the 20 years since the attack, but also the types of companies that have chosen to locate there.

In 2001, 55 percent of the tenants in the buildings there were financial companies, but now just 30 percent of them are in that category, according to figures compiled by The Wall Street Journal.

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