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The New York Sun

One of the most remarkable features of the past five years in New York City has been how, even through the shock and grief and pain that marked September 11 and its aftermath, New Yorkers have been steadily reclaiming their cityscape from the forces that sought to destroy it. The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the recently unveiled plans for three stunning skyscrapers to be built at ground zero, but signs of the city’s resilience and New Yorkers’ determination to charge onward and upward are all over. The post-September 11 New York will be different, but New Yorkers are showing their determination that, at the end of the day, it will be better.

There has been much griping around the city, including in these columns, about the delays in rebuilding at Ground Zero. But we have no doubt that one of the reasons the rebuilding has gotten off to a slow start is that the market was trying to tell us something, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to give a market time to work things out. Today, the site’s private developer, Larry Silverstein, is closer than ever to signing a final deal with the Port Authority, and construction of a series of office towers is now expected to be complete by 2011. Ten years is striking a lot of people as too long a time for the site to have remained a hole in the ground, but given the political complexity and emotional charge of that particular spot — the combination of mourning and politics — it was probably best it took time.

A lot of things, after all, had to be sorted out with a project that will transform Lower Manhattan, and the city at large, for generations. But we are learning anew what a commercial and artistic magnet the city still is. Six world-renowned architects — Daniel Libeskind, David Childs, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Fumihiko Maki, and Santiago Calatrava — have contributed designs for millions of square feet of office space at the site and for a transit hub to bring in thousands of workers. Ground zero will return to the commercial roots of the city while also displaying the same architectural and engineering adventurousness that in earlier generations created the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and the original World Trade Center.

The renaissance is just as evident beyond the 16-acre World Trade Center site. Just across the street, Goldman Sachs is erecting a new 43-story headquarters. A little to the south, a new promenade greets pedestrians at West Street and Battery Place. A new transit center at Fulton Street will ease the way for 300,000 daily riders to commute in and out of Lower Manhattan on 12 subway lines. Luxury housing is springing up all over the place, and in many buildings New Yorkers are moving into structures that used to house offices. Those who thought Lower Manhattan was dead even before September 11 are being proven wrong every day.

The renaissance is happening all over the city. At Midtown, a 52-story skyscraper is going up to house offices for the Bank of America while a second 52-story tower is going up just a few blocks away for the New York Times. A million square-foot mall is going up on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market. Brooklyn is on the make, with the Atlantic Yards development charging ahead. According to a recent report from the Real Estate Board of New York, rents for street-level retail space are up by double-digit percentages in retail shopping hot spots across the city, an indicator that New York is attracting residents and guests with a lot of money to spend in the local economy.

This renaissance has been as contentious as just about everything else in the city. The Atlantic Yards project is still dogged by neighborhood concerns deserving, and getting, a measure of respect. The city’s political class has often had different ideas from the private sector about the direction redevelopment should take. Mayor Bloomberg holds firm to his belief that Lower Manhattan’s future as a commercial center is in doubt, while Mr. Silverstein and many others disagree. Much residential development is marred by an obsession with creating “affordable housing” that often does more harm than good, even to those in whose interests the “affordable” housing movement ostensibly speaks.

New Yorkers have always disagreed with each other about the future of their city. Our own preference would be for giving the free market more freedom to operate than it often receives in this city, and we’ve never shied away from expressing that view in respect of a host of development projects. It would be a mistake, however, to get so caught up in the details of any particular project as to lose sight of the bigger picture. Five years after finding itself at the epicenter of the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, New York is a vibrant city in the midst of a great renaissance.

The New York Sun

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