Looking Back: How a Post 9/11 New York Has Fundamentally Changed

September 11 Terrorism
Second tower of the World Trade Center bursting into flames after being hit by an airplane in New York on September 11, 2001. (photo credit: STR NEW/REUTERS)

We can never forget the day our innocence was taken, not just New York City’s but the nation as a whole lost its sense of security. New York has been described as vibrant and resilient, a city of many strengths with the character of a boxer. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the way we carry out our everyday lives but proved we can bounce back. The city’s residents have returned to normalcy necessary to move forward but it’s not quite what it used to be.

There are memories we reserve to remember them as we go. Others, we intentionally repress to deceive ourselves into thinking that bad things don’t happen. On a Tuesday, 18 years ago on the 11th of September a memory was planted in our brain. One that I can vividly recall, as if it had happened yesterday. The skies were clear and blue, a beautiful morning began as an average workday. Running late, missing a train during the daily commute can feel like the worst, except on that particular day it was my saving grace. As I stepped out of the Church Street, A train station at 9:03am, there it was for me to see. A commercial airliner hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I was praying my eyes were deceiving me, as I watched fireballs fall from above. Chaos everywhere without direction, rampant on city streets. I had no idea, it would be one fragment of the catastrophic events that took place on that fateful day in September. 

It is one of thousands of stories you may have heard from that period. Weeks, months, years went by before New Yorker’s rattled emotions started to settle. The dust from the rubble slowly lifted over time but it took years before new ground construction was initiated at the site where the Freedom Tower now stands. Victims affected by that day’s events, whether directly or indirectly have been deeply scarred. The repercussions continue to be felt until today, as 9/11 continues to take the lives of first responders. Last year’s 17th anniversary counted almost 10K people with cancers related to the toxicity of the smoke and dust inhaled from Ground Zero. There have been 16,000 service men, firefighters, police officers, FBI agents and others from in and surrounding areas awarded or eligible for compensation. These are individuals whose health is now in jeopardy because they chose to help during the rescue recovery. The nation is still healing as 9/11 claims new victims. Full recovery is difficult to envision while mores lives connected to the attacks are lost.

Living in the The Big Apple takes getting used to with its overcrowded sidewalks, lack of personal space, noise, aggressive city attitudes and quick paced pedestrians. Let’s say, it’s a lot to take in, if you don’t like all the congestion. However, as a native it is all we know. Sometimes the city’s characteristics may seem obnoxious to outsiders but if you are a city dweller you get to know that underneath all the intensity and coldness, New York City has the heart of a lion. Post 9/11 the young, old, Latinos, Whites, Blacks and Asian from all nationalities, countries, and neighborhoods came together for the purpose of healing. The attacks on the US hurt Americans across the country but also brought people together to aid one another during a time of pain and distress. Our city needed help and on that day we were standing under one flag. 

The 9/11 attacks is the city’s most painful event claiming a mass amount of casualties. A total of 2,997 people died during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. For a long time, residents stood united refusing to allow terrorism to take away their freedoms by changing the way they lived. The best way to defy those threatening our freedoms is to carry on with a full life. Backing up into a world of fear stops us from genuinely living a life that is worthy of who we are as Americans. Although, a period of mourning forced a pause New Yorkers have reverted to what they are known to be – courageous. The city breeds proud, tough and brave souls that thrive in the midst of hustle and bustle. 

Thankfully, the city has returned to its status quo in many respects but has fundamentally changed in two ways from this New Yorker’s perspective.

Reuters / Gary Hershorn
Reuters / Gary Hershorn

 Infrastructure

Visiting downtown’s financial district post 9/11 is mind boggling. Years of walking the area and using the trade centers as a guide was a way of life for me and many others. Today, I am still getting accustomed to a single tower with its surrounding areas. New and different neighborhoods have been built along with schools, retail, restaurants and corporations attracted by the modern look of lower Manhattan. The area is attracting more tourists than ever from around the world, as well as new renters and buyers of residential spaces. It is the new, New York which may take time for older generations to learn to navigate.

Carefree Attitude

The city was robbed of its innocence on 9/11. Although, a place known for its liberal ways we had never faced pain to this degree. City guys, girls and kids alike ran amok focused on their personal and professional lives, not overly worried about foreign threats. It’s not that we did not see the world around us, but had not experienced it like other nations in turmoil. Americans often heard about warfare on the other side of the world. This time war was brought to US soil, 9/11 was the first major strike by foreigners since the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The rug was pulled from under our casual lives.

We are a city of constant vigilance, now highly aware of others looking to cause harm. There is a sense of extreme sensitivity to suspicious activities that prior to September 11th we might have overlooked. Living in a world of “If you see something, say something” reminds us that it can happen again at anytime. Residents lay their heads on pillows each night hoping history never repeats. Trepidation can put us in a state of ongoing anxiety thinking another incident is imminent but we cannot let the past interfere with our present. The best we can do is keep our eyes wide open and live out loud. We will never forget.