The Resilience of Downtown Manhattan

The most remarkable sequel of the September 11th attacks, now approaching their tenth anniversary, was rarely reported as such: the continued rise of New York real-estate prices. Since many pundits swiftly declared that the question was not whether but when future terrorist attacks would come, it was plausible to believe that commercial and residential prices in New York, Washington, and other major urban centers would drop significantly to reflect the risk of destruction, from hijackings to suitcase bombs. Certainly other plots have been discovered, and some experts believe risks are increasing.

But at Ground Zero itself, results have been the opposite of what terrorists expected. The area, once in limbo, is thriving, according to this Associated Press report.

Virginia Lam, a publicist and former City Hall operative who moved into a newly converted residential building on Wall Street in 2006, said the site is a source of inspiration, rather than fear or gloom.

"It's pretty amazing," she said of the new towers rising from the 16-acre hole created by the attacks. "I feel like, being a New Yorker who was here on 9/11, and who has worked for the Fire Department and for the city, I think it is always in the back of my mind, but it's not something that dominates my thinking. I go about living my life."

About 45,750 people now live in the part of Manhattan south of Chambers Street, which encompasses ground zero. That is more than twice as many as there were during the last census.

All this may reflect a false sense of security, which we've seen in finance and nuclear power. Crowds may be wise, but every so often they stampede and people get hurt. Still, terrorism specialists might also consider real-estate prices as a form of prediction market.

That doesn't mean the attacks were necessarily futile from a terrorist perspective. They may indirectly have promoted the financial crisis of the decade's end -- a possibility that economists and economic historians will be discussing for a long time, as it's hard to separate Sept. 11 from other trends. (See this report from the St. Louis Fed.) The Lower Manhattan real-estate boom may be a harbinger of a national renaissance -- or just the other side of the gloomy, bitter mood still haunting this country and much of the European Union.

Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in National

From This Author

Just In