David Stanke in his condominium across the street from the World Trade Center site. He and his family hope to move back there in a few months.
A few months time will mark the end of my familys 9/11 journey. Renovations on our condo on Liberty St., severely damaged and contaminated by the falling towers, will be complete. Our neighbors (those who have endured the stress of the last three years) will move back in to our apartments. The final pieces of our lives will return to their 9/10/01 patterns. Except for the 16-acre void at our doorstep, everything will be as it was. Schools, stores, restaurants, parks, subways: they will all fall back into place. Finally, after three years, we will no longer be the last displaced residents of 9/11.
The next year will also be pivotal for the future of the World Trade Center site. Every phase of activity undertaken as a result of the 9/11 attacks has been completed. Every identifiable remain has been removed. All of the ruins and hazardous waste have been removed. Every mendable piece of infrastructure has been returned to functionality. Even the high level planning processes, along with basic memorial design, has been completed. Fundamentally, there is just one thing left to do: build. This is the year where the focus on the site shifts from looking backward to moving forward.
Over the last year, the energy of the site has changed. A year ago, the site was adrift in a state of despair, a forbidden and foreboding place. But the temporary PATH terminal brought life and activity back. It gave hope for a return to the old vitality. It brought the public into the 16 acres and gave us the opportunity to directly face the remains of the disaster. No longer did we stand on the periphery and struggle to understand from a distance. The forbidden was exposed and the sacred space became part of our daily lives. With this transformation, the site became blank slate upon which we, as a society, can draw the future.
There are a number of challenges in moving from the pre-construction phase to the progress of tomorrow. In the next year the finances, detailed designs, historic preservation elements, environmental operating procedures, and political control of decision making have to fall in place. Any of these items can derail the recovery. The site today, though quiet, has energy of expectation, the energy of a rubber band pulled tight. That energy must be acted upon soon or it will dissipate. Our political, economic, and community institutions will be challenged to negotiate our differences, to resolve the issues, and to position ourselves to bring to fruition a shared vision of the W.T.C. site. The obvious challenges are behind us. The decisions of the next year will set the foundation on which the future will evaluate us. The general parameters are in place for a distinctive and worthy replacement for the original W.T.C. To successfully respond to this disaster, we need to leap the hurdles and begin the work. Today, procrastination is defeat.
Personally, I feel empowered by shedding the layers of dead skin left by 9/11 and emerging each day with the experience gained in the last three years. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, I felt for the first time, the intense connectedness of all humans. All of the surface disturbances and petty differences faded in the face of an intense understanding that something far more important had been revealed. Three years of a variety of petty skirmishes and wasted energy have progressively blocked my ability to connect with what I know to be true: that our only real challenge on earth is to understand and love our neighbors. As personal circumstances of access to our homes, removal of contamination, settling of insurance claims, and resolution of internal condo standoffs fade into the past; I will wake up every morning dedicated to restoring my connection to this truth. It is in these moments of connectedness that I fully honor those whose lives were sacrificed on 9/11.
One year from now, well see if the W.T.C. site was able to shake the layers of pain and destruction, to overcome the conflicts and disagreements, and to move forward with the new heart it earned on 9/11. The concepts and plans are there to create a spectacular public space. If those involved in the process exert their energy productively, the details will take form and construction will begin. If the involved residents, businesses, and family members focus on core needs and shed the clutter and fears, we will provide the energy and ideas that will lift the W.T.C. from good to great. If the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., Port Authority, Silverstein Properties, which owns the sites leasing rights, New York City and New York State operate openly with dedication and good faith, resistance to progress will fade away and most of the population will throw their support behind the reconstruction. When this happens, the energy suspended in these 16 acres will finally be released.
There is a second lesson Ive learned in the past years. The greatest limitation of human capacity is selfishness and fear. We can achieve amazing things if we focus on expanding our future instead of dividing our past. With that knowledge, I can move forward without certainty or control, knowing that I can deal with circumstances as they arise. I have no fear about moving into the worlds largest urban construction site because I can adjust to and deal with inconveniences, issues, and circumstances as they arise. I can see past the turbulence to experience daily the creation of a great new W.T.C. This year is the beginning of that journey.
David Stanke is co-president of BPC United, a group of Downtown residents.