Volume 16 • Issue 42 | March 19 - 25, 2004

Poll: Downtown’s on the right track, but distrust of E.P.A. soars

By Josh Rogers

The Poll Results

How would you rate the job (George Pataki,
Michael Bloomberg) is doing handling the rebuilding effort.

Net positive - Neutral - Net Negative

Based on what you know, how satisfied are you with the design for (the World Trade Center Memorial, Freedom Tower, the new PATH station)—are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat unsatisfied, or very unsatisfied?

Very Satisfied-Somewhat satisfied-Somewhat Unsatisfied

Statement a: Supporters of building a tunnel under West Street in order to bury it underground say it will eliminate the highway that isolates Battery Park City from the rest of Manhattan.

STATEMENT B: Opponents of building the tunnel say it isn’t worth its $900 million dollar cost, since it will disrupt downtown traffic for years and really only bury a few blocks of West Street.
Do you expect to be living in Lower Manhattan five years from now?

Do you expect to be living in your neighborhood five years from now?

Pace University conducted a poll of 646 people living south of 14th St. Researchers spoke to people between Feb. 29 – March 4. The margin of error is +/- 4%.
Things are looking up Downtown, according to a new poll of Downtown residents, but the distrust of the Environmental Protection Agency has climbed to 72 percent.

Lolly Sullivan, 82, a Southbridge Towers resident, said since it took over a year for E.P.A. contractors to come and clean her apartment, she was not surprised to hear that few people in Lower Manhattan trust the agency.

“Who does,” she asked. “Why come to my apartment a year and a half later? If I’m alive, I’m O.K.”

The poll, conducted by Pace University from Feb. 29 –March 4, surveyed 646 residents living in a broad Downtown area, south of W. 14th St., and is available online at www.Pace.edu/pacepoll. Jonathan Trichter, director of the poll, said on most questions, people living in the neighborhoods closer to the World Trade Center site answered the same way as other Downtowners.

“I was hyperconscious – superconscious looking for neighborhood differences,” Trichter said in a telephone interview.

One difference he saw was that in Battery Park City, the Financial District and the South Street Seaport, 84 percent of the respondents said they spoke about rebuilding issues with neighbors, compared to 65 percent for the rest of Downtown. Thirty-four percent of those polled were from one of the three neighborhoods. Trichter did not have specific numbers for Tribeca, also close to gound zero, since it was grouped with other parts of Downtown.

Overall, 56 percent of the respondents said rebuilding efforts were headed in the right direction, an increase of six percent from when Pace asked the same question last July; 20 percent said things were headed in the wrong direction, which was down from 25 percent in the summer. Trichter said it looked like there was more optimism in B.P.C., the Seaport and the Financial District where 63 percent said they liked the rebuilding direction.

Seventy-six percent of the respondents said they expect to be living Downtown five years from now. A similar poll showed that only 58 percent of the city’s population expected to be living in the same neighborhood in 2009. In the three southern neighborhoods, where many people are beginning to face steep rent hikes because the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. residential incentive grants are ending, 73 percent still said they plan to stay for at least five more years.

The poll had a +/-4 % margin of error overall, but it is a little higher for answers limited to the three neighborhoods. This smaller group said they were a little more trusting of the E.P.A., or more accurately, not as distrustful, with 63 percent saying they did trust the agency that managed the testing and cleaning of apartments below Canal St. compared to 72 percent of the broader group.

In July 2003, around the time most of the E.P.A. testing and cleaning had been completed, 61 percent of Downtowners said the cleanup and monitoring of air was going very or somewhat well, compared to 31 percent who said it was not going well.

Later in the summer, the E.P.A.’s independent inspector general released a report charging that in Sept. 2001 Christie Whitman, then the agency’s adminstrator, declared that the air was safe to breathe for Downtown workers and residents without having enough data to reach that conclusion. Whitman also acknowledged in an interview that White House officials influenced E.P.A. news releases about Downtown air quality.

  Mary Mears, an E.P.A. spokesperson, said Thursday the agency accepted the poll results but that officials were clear that Whitman’s statement in 2001was based on the available tests.

“People are entitled to their opinion, but every statement we ever made was backed up by the data we had,” she said.

Mears said the agency was proud of the work it did after the World Trade Center collapse. Downtown Manhattan and even parts of Brooklyn was covered with dust containing lead and asbestos on 9/11.

When pressed, she did say there was some concern about how Downtowners rated the agency’s work.

“Of course what the public feels is of great interest and concern to us at the same time we are confident we did a great job responding to the attack on the World Trade Center.”

Michael Kaufman, a 33-year-old architect who lives in Battery Park City, said he always was skeptical of the E.P.A. and he and his wife had their Gateway Plaza apartment cleaned twice before he moved back in – long before the E.P.A. cleanup program began. He did have the E.P.A. test his apartment, but he said he couldn’t understand the technical letter with the results – a common complaint from other Downtowners.

Kaufman said by the time the testers came to his apartment he felt it was “too little too late.” His reactions to last year’s news revelations: “My fears [about the E.P.A] – I won’t say they were proven, but they were justified.”

Other residents called on the E.P.A. to warn residents living near apartments contaminated with dangerous chemicals, but the agency cited privacy concerns.

The E.P.A. program did achieve some success since they were able to get rid of dangerous levels of lead in nearly every apartment, and they removed asbestos, a problem throughout the city, in about 99 percent of the homes.

Kaufman, who has followed the rebuilding efforts closely, said he was surprised so many said rebuilding was going well, but he stopped short of saying things were moving on the wrong track. He does think there is a confusing set of agencies competing for power.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction, but I don’t think anyone is driving the bus,” he said.

One of his biggest concerns is that the selected W.T.C. memorial design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker has a wall along West St., which will block street-level access to the site from his neighborhood. Andrew Winters, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s vice president of planning, said the agency is currently looking for ways to provide access on part of West St.

Kaufman, like many who answered the poll, raved about the proposed W.T.C. train center design by Santiago Calatrava, and also liked David Childs’ Freedom Tower, which is to be built at the site beginning in September.

“I love the station It’s going to be wonderful,” he said. “The tower – something of that kind has to be there—an icon.”

Twice as many respondents said they were very satisfied with the station as compared to the memorial and tower, but all three designs were rated highly. Almost 60 percent were very or somewhat satisfied with the station with only five somewhat or very unsatisfied; 58 percent had a favorable view of the memorial and 22 percent had a negative view; 52 percent liked the tower and 22 percent were somewhat or very unsatisfied with the design.

Like most of the respondents, Kaufman and his wife plan to stay in Lower Manhattan, although he said if the W.T.C.construction is too disruptive, he may rethink that.

“Our current plan is to have our family here,” he said. “We couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family I love this neighborhood – absolutely, but we’re in for another long haul.”



Downtown Express is published by
Community Media LLC.

Downtown Express | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013

Phone: 212.242.6162 | Fax: 212.229.2970
Email: news@downtownexpress.com

Written permission of the publisher must be obtainedbefore any of the contents of this newspaper, in whole or in part, can be reproduced or redistributed.