Where were you on 9/11?
It’s a question many people can easily answer, and one that has led many sightseeing tours of New York City to include “Ground Zero” on their itineraries (the space that was once occupied by the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.) In fact, tourism began almost immediately after the stunning attacks on September 11, 2001, when onlookers came in masses to see the gaping spot where the Towers once stood, and to leave their own small remembrances nearby.
Because of this great public interest in – and symbolic importance of – the site, for nearly a decade the space has been plagued by political, jurisdictional, architectural and emotional barriers to building: how could the city best commemorate the victims of the tragic events of 9/11, and yet still retain some of the immense value of the real estate? How could they balance the economic realities with the emotional needs of a city and nation?
Well, we’re about to find out. As we approach the 10th anniversary that tragic day, the city is finally nearing completion of its tribute to the fallen. This Sunday, the 9/11 Memorial will be dedicated in a ceremony attended by the friends and families of the victims, as well a string of political luminaries including President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, to name a few. It will be officially opened to the public on Monday, September 12.
The long-debated memorial, whose final design was created by architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker (winners of a major international competition to reconfigure the space) features two major elements. The first, “Reflecting Absence,” is a plaza that has been landscaped around the one-acre footprints of both World Trade Center buildings. The footprints themselves have been transformed into fountains – the largest manmade waterfalls in the country – with reflective pools at their center, while the sides of the installation have been inscribed with the names of the victims of the terrorist attacks that occurred both in 2001 and 1993 (the first World Trade Center bombing.) Architect Arad describes the fountains as “voids,” meant to represent the hole the event and its related losses left in the landscape, collective heart, and psyche of the nation.
The second element of the memorial is a museum – slated to open in 2012 – which is dedicated to translating the human scale and impact of the attacks. Its permanent collection will contain many artifacts collected from the site, as well as photographs, video, and other memorabilia. In an important collaboration with StoryCorps, the Museum has been collecting (and will continue to collect), the narratives of people who witnessed, lived through or lost loved ones in the attacks. Further, its special exhibition, “In Memoriam,” will allow visitors to learn more intimate details and personal stories about the men, women, and children who died on 9/11.
While the entire World Trade Center building project is not yet complete (construction is not expected to be finished until 2014, with the opening of the Freedom Tower/One World Trade Center) reservations are now being accepted to access the 9/11 Memorial plaza itself. For those who can’t visit this weekend, the Memorial’s website features a fantastic blog, The Memo, which will keep you up-to-date on goings-on in the area. You can also hear some of the moving stories of September 11 – many of which will be in the Museum when it opens next year – on the StoryCorps website.
And if you’re considering a trip to the city this fall (and let’s face it, isn’t autumn one of the best times to visit Manhattan?) TakeTours offers multiple tours of New York City that are both budget-friendly, and offer some flexibility to design your own experience in the Big Apple. So we near the 10th anniversary of 9/11, you can honor the fallen in two ways: you can be one of the first to see and pay your respects at this newly-hallowed ground; and you can also experience the other sights and sounds of the city that continues to be vibrant and exciting despite the tragic events of its recent past.