August 11, 2010

The tragedy unleashed on September 11, 2001 was of staggering proportions. Some 3,000 people lost their lives at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon alone. These disasters have presented Americans with a new grim reality: We are not invincible. Even before the attacks, this message was being telegraphed by a slumping economy brought down by the collapse of an unsustainable "irrational exuberance."

Adapting to this reality has been a humbling experience. It has led to the institution of procedures that have raised costs and produced inconveniences as intrusive as intensive airline security checks or as annoying as the need to walk farther because a formerly accessible entrance is now locked. While 9/11 prompted a re-evaluation of physical security, perhaps its greatest underlying lesson was a demonstration of how the power of individuals working together can be harnessed to address a compelling need.

Marking the one-year anniversary of 9/11/01, a special 12-page section starting on p. 40 views the terrorist events and their aftermath from the perspective of individuals who have been connected with them. One message that comes across clearly is the dedication shown by members of the construction community.

Fredric Bell, executive director of the New York City Chapter of American Institute of Architects, notes that the WTC site was cleared not only quickly, but also with no further injury or loss of life. The work was performed with respect not only for the victims, but also for families of individuals whose remains were not found. Contractors working on the site were mindful that they were not adequately covered by liability or Good Samaritan laws. Members of the design community, particularly structural engineers, gave unstintingly of their time and talent.

Within two weeks of the attacks, 21 groups representing New York architects, engineers, planners and community organizations — despite their differences — had joined forces under the banner of "New York New Visions."

The aftermath of 9/11 demonstrated the impact that such coalitions can exert on public officials. It changed the balance of power by moving the planning process for rebuilding from orchestration by a single design firm to an open competition in which five firms will be selected to present their proposals for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan.


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