When I lived in New York for the first time, lower Manhattan was still reeling from the September 11 attacks. The site where the two towers once stood was a haphazard mess of scaffolding, heavy equipment and dust. At the time it seemed unthinkable that 10 years on a series of new towers, a transit hub and monuments would fill the void. During my first stint in the city I didn’t ever venture down there; I couldn’t.
Now I live a short walk from The World Trade Center. I moved back to New York a little more than three years ago and at first I didn’t find myself particularly drawn to Lower Manhattan. Aside from its violent collision with history I just wasn’t lured by the area or the raft of tourists pulsing through its jagged maze of streets. What only enhanced this was the neverending construction that plagued the district for more than a decade.
While I know the task of building a museum, a memorial and new towers – and rethinking a vital transit hub – is nothing small, it always felt as though that part of the city would never be returned to us. Then about the time I moved back something happened: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum opened. I was working as a TV news producer and was asked to go and cover the opening.
For years the only access I had to this place has been through the stories; the heartbreaking sagas of loss and shocking images of jets used as weapons. When I walked into the newly minted memorial all of that melted away. It was a much-needed symbol to prove that loss didn’t necessarily mean defeat; that this place would be reborn.
Slowly, pieces of pavement have reopened, scaffolding has come down and shiny new towers have taken their first tenants. And, this summer it seems many projects will finally come to fruition at or around the site. One of the more exciting things, for me, is an all-new transit-oriented commercial facility.
The World Trade Center Transportation Hub is anchored by a piece of odd yet fantastic structural art by Santiago Calatrava. Called Oculus, it’s the aesthetic beacon that will redefine the neighbourhood and is due to open in June. While some have balked at a $3.9bn (€3.4bn) price tag, it’s a true stab at creating a great gateway into the city. Sure, it can’t compare to Grand Central Terminal but it certainly is a nice way to show those coming into Manhattan that we still care about grand entrances (area airports take note).
From transit hubs to grocery stores and even running paths, I am slowly beginning to understand how the neighbourhood fits into my life. I’ll often jog through lower Manhattan and observe all of the life taking place there and the new bits that have sprung up. I’d never have believed that this neighbourhood would reclaim its place. But now I’m happy, even proud, to say it has.
Tristan McAllister is Monocle’s transport edtor.