Barack Obama made his first-ever visit as president to the World Trade Center site on in May, shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden, a trip that for many New Yorkers signified at least some closure to the horrific events that scarred their city. But Obama’s stop at Ground Zero should not only be meaningful in its homage to those lost during the Sept. 11 attacks. It should also be seen as the beginning of a new course for the country, one started at the sprawling construction site that is New York’s downtown area.
Over the last 10 years, lower Manhattan has been the center point of much of America’s grief. At the World Trade Center site, terrorists’ actions spawned two wars and global outrage against the United States. Only blocks away, the financial institutions that form Wall Street led America down an economic spiral. Through this decade, American's have had a drastic change in mood. No longer do we consider ourselves a global political or economic power. We have seemingly given up our place at the top of world affairs.
Obama came to Ground Zero to lay wreaths at a shrine for 9/11 victims, the cap on a euphoric week that started with the death of Osama bin Laden. His visit was wrapped in symbolism. At the memorial site he stood amongst the massive construction of the new World Trade Center. Beneath the shadow of the Freedom Tower, Obama paraded past the new public transit hub, park, and office complex that will replace the old Twin Towers. Downtown Manhattan, the site of America’s 10-year turmoil, is building again.
The national depression has been given a high dose of Zoloft. This was apparent as the wild celebrations formed on Sunday night across the country when news of bin Laden’s death was first reported. His death seems to have lifted a psychological burden from our perception of national identity.
I predict that the new national mood will now take up a different American mission – returning the country back to prominence.
And it starts in lower Manhattan. The Twin Towers were the centerfold of a New York neighborhood built around the needs of the firms the World Trade Center housed. When the towers were gone, the neighborhood looked for a new identity.
Over the last decade, lower Manhattan has transformed from an office park to a residential area. Like a plant filling a garden with its roots, some 23,000 people have moved into the area since 2000, a 46 percent increase in population, filling the void lost by the towers. The area has been forced to rely less on the money of financial executives, and has molded itself to become one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
Though the name Ground Zero conjures up images of a broken ghost town, downtown is anything but. It has moved on from the events of Sept. 11, and is finding a new identity.
America, too, will now move on from the events of Sept. 11. The country will look to build and find a new identity that fits in the rapidly changing international system.
As Obama said, “We will never forget.” During his visit to lower Manhattan, we must understand that the memories will remain, but a new vision has formed. Downtown is under construction, the heart of a worksite that is the new America.
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