The writer Colson Whitehead said in one of the essays more alive about New York after 9/11 that you become a New Yorker the first time you say “this used to be …” that store, that bar, that Starbucks that gave you a souvenir chair when they were taking it apart. “The city of New York where you live is not the same one that I live in. How could it be? This place multiplies while you are not looking … Before you know it you have your own profile of the city”, wrote. “Thousands of people pass in front of a shop window every day, each looking for the streets of their New York and without anyone seeing the same thing.”
Everything changes, but does not fade. “The disappeared pizzeria is still there because you are here,” he said. “The city knows you better than anyone because it has seen you when you are alone.”
Whitehead portrayed well the love of those of us who have lived it towards a dirty, noisy city, with impossible and unequal rents, but at the same time beautiful, with green spaces, unpredictable in every block of rich and poor of all colors, and with an intense and often friendly neighborhood life.
In those first months after 9/11, the city seemed uncertain and dark, amid continuous “orange alerts” of possible attacks (more than once I was also tempted to buy duct tape to put on my windows due to the supposed chemical attack that was about to happen. about to happen) and a feeling of loss that became unbearable when passing through the south of Manhattan, and seeing the hole, the houses standing but uninhabitable, the photos of the disappeared that were becoming discolored. The direct loss touched many people in the city, including the dead, the wounded, the survivors who had been poisoned by helping and the victims already beginning to arrive from the war in Afghanistan.
At the same time, the city was growing through other channels. Blocks shaded by industrial towers that you couldn’t walk through at night were suddenly filled with supermarkets, new offices and bike lanes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted on building. The Hudson River, on which the city had for so long turned its back, was made accessible by tree-lined paths and, at last, part of the city. The parks in which New Yorkers had taken refuge on the day of the attack – then they seemed the safest place – became a natural field for games, concerts and picnics without destroying them as it had in the 70s. The most ominous announced it did not happen and the city continued to grow, with its opportunities and also its inequalities exacerbated by the price of rents, which soared that first decade of the century and barely noticed the pattern of the housing bubble in the next. Fear of terror increased, but crime dropped to lows unknown in decades and the city became one of the safest in the United States.
9/11 changed our personal and professional world in radical ways that were hard to understand. In a couple of decades, we may see the pandemic like this. But for those of us who live it closely, the resurrection was also a demonstration of the strength of a unique city.
Young people taking a tour of lower Manhattan today will not recognize that this was a disaster area for years. And not only for the construction of new skyscrapers, parks, museums and train stations. The neighborhood has improved compared to what it used to be: there are more residents due to the offers of those years of cheaper rents to repopulate the area and the offices are no longer just headquarters of banks and investment funds. Children were hardly seen in the neighborhood and now they are 17%, how it counts here The Economist. There are new schools and a life that did not exist before.
There remains the loss of thousands of lives and the infinite trail of pain. For the most fortunate, there is nostalgia for the disappeared. That community of artists, that absurdly steep curve of the subway station, that seat where your legs dangled in front of the glass at the top of the twin towers.