The President and other dignitaries were in New York yesterday to celebrate the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The museum is a crucial part of the overall World Trade Center project, especially as the years pass and the generation born after 9/11 grows older. It is always somewhat shocking to think of the high school sophomores and juniors on my tours and to realize that they don't remember 9/11. The museum will bring a visceral and personal reminder of the stories of New York in late 2001 and what people experienced on that day and in the months after for generations of young people. But up on the plaza above the museum, where the memorial's sunken pools mark the site of the Twin Towers, something even more important happened with no fanfare at all. A few small lines of fences were removed.
Since the attacks, the World Trade Center has been a place removed from the rest of the city, perpetually behind a series of construction fences. At first, the fences hid an empty pit 70 feet deep. As construction got under way in 2006, they often hid the progress that was going on at or beneath ground level. Even as the bulk of towers 1 and 4 began to rise above the site, their base remained obscured. Meanwhile, life kept rushing on in NYC. The streets around the site were choked as ever with the hustle and bustle of commuters headed from their offices to the subway, or to the ferries in Battery Park City, or to the PATH train deep in the bowels of the World Trade Center. More tourists than ever before descended on the area to view the progress and pay their respects to the lost. More residents than ever before began moving to the Financial District as outdated office buildings were converted to condos and financial firms headed to Midtown. The neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan thrived as the World Trade Center remained shrouded.
Even three years ago, when the memorial pools and the green space around them opened to the public, they opened behind fences. With the rest of the site under construction access had to be limited to a controlled entry point, and a ticketing system was instituted, keeping the memorial out of the everyday lives of the people who lived around it. The sunken pools couldn't even be seen from outside the controlled area. The memorial was open, but seemed as distant and time-consuming to reach as the Statue of Liberty far out in the harbor. It was iconic and important, but not part of the everyday experience of New Yorkers.
And last night, around 8 PM, the fences along the west side and the southeast corner of the memorial plaza were taken down. With no fanfare, the residents of Battery Park City west of the WTC could suddenly walk through the 9/11 Memorial to get where they needed to go. It became the most direct route to the subway or to shops. A crosswalk and a street where there had been none hours before. The street the walkers found themselves on was called Crown Street in the colonial English days, but after the American Revolution it was given a new name: Liberty Street. A street that is free at last from the fences that surrounded it. Today the World Trade Center truly became part of New York again.
Here is the news story from WNBC. This also means that visitors to the 9/11 Memorial will no longer need any tickets or passes to view the memorial.