After Attacks Changed the World, The Recovery Changed a City

Five years ago, above, people ran as the twin towers collapsed, sending clouds of dust and debris across Lower Manhattan. Today, stores are open and pedestrians stroll the area, below. However, higher rents have forced out some small businesses and art spaces.
Five years ago, above, people ran as the twin towers collapsed, sending clouds of dust and debris across Lower Manhattan. Today, stores are open and pedestrians stroll the area, below. However, higher rents have forced out some small businesses and art spaces. (By Suzanne Plunkett -- Associated Press)

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By Michael Powell and Michelle García
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 9, 2006

NEW YORK -- You're sitting in the center of the fabulousness. The stinky old Fulton Fish Market is gone, and cobblestone streets are lined with boutiques and $1 million condos with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the sky is that razor blue.

Almost like that day.

Five years ago, this neighborhood in downtown Manhattan, a few blocks from the twin towers, was covered in half a foot of gray ash. Now, Jason Lowney, 28, and Patrick Darragh, 24, down drinks and talk that emphatic guy talk, and Sept. 11 feels pretty distant.

"People thought downtown would be a ghost town," says Lowney, a husky and dark-haired insurance adjuster. "I think it's stronger ."

Darragh nods. Then he lets slip that his uncle was on the 80th floor of the South Tower and died that day. Darragh wanted to migrate here after college.

"It was like a defensive thing," he says. "You even saw it immediately afterward. . . . New Yorkers never had any apprehension."

Some days the hole in the heart of this city appears healed over. The braggadocio is back and the jackhammers rattle near Ground Zero. The scar that is the 16-acre hole is still there, a monument to political paralysis. But a forest of blue condominium towers rises, Hermes and Tiffany are opening shops downtown, Goldman Sachs is throwing up a 43-story office tower, and those Viking-stoved, Jacuzzi-ed lofts still attract high-roller bid-a-thons.

More than 5,800 apartments have been built in Lower Manhattan since 2001, and the median residential sales price has jumped 75 percent. Big corporations -- the Bank of New York, Goldman and Moody's Investors Service -- are building millions of square feet of new office space.

"The luxury stores are moving in, and with luck we'll soon . . . start building at Ground Zero," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city's largest businesses. "A lot of major corporations have committed to staying in place, and that wasn't at all clear in 2001."

So if you measure health by beautiful offices and million-dollar lofts -- and what upper-middle-class New Yorker hasn't these past five years? -- you might conclude that all's swell.

Then you walk to the corner of Barclay and Church streets, where five years ago a cluster of cops and waiters and reporters watched the city's biggest tower fall out of the sky. No one moved, it wasn't real -- and then everyone ran as 30-story clouds of ugly gray smoke and dust and biomass rocketed up Church.

Nearby there is an outdoor exhibit of photos of Ground Zero, beautiful photos of women in tears and St. Paul's Chapel, spire lost in that cloud of dust, and firefighters huddled in the darkness around the remains of one of their own. A sturdy cop looks at the photos and wipes at his eyes.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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