Lower Manhattan neighborhoods—a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks—have been able to spring back faster than what was imagined at the time of the devastation. Government grants and incentives to attract people to move into the area have played a big role in this recovery.
For Courtney Jesinkey and Dave Barnett, a couple who are in their early 30s, the desire to feel a sense of community brought them to Tribeca. In mid-July, they moved into what is now the tallest residential building on the East Coast, the 76-story Frank Gehry building on Beekman and Spruce streets. The couple felt secluded and out of touch with social activities in their Upper Westside neighborhood.
“People are a different breed [in this neighborhood] than what I have experienced in my 12-plus years in the city. From restaurants to bars, customer service to people on the street, there is just a positive atmosphere and a more relaxed state than the normal and expected pace of New York City,” said Barnett.
Longtime resident, actor Robert DeNiro, founded of The Tribeca Film Festival, with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in 2002, with a mission in mind. It was to help renew and rebuild the economy of Lower Manhattan through film, culture and music in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Ceremonies to honor the victims marked the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.
Organizers of the film festival wanted the event to bring to the area the cachet otherwise reserved for Hollywood. During the first year of the Tribeca Film Festival, there were only two movies shown. But since then the list has grown, and as of April 2011, there were 185 movies shown. The festival also expanded to five locations beyond the neighborhoods borders.
Jesinkey, a new Tribeca resident, said, “Early on, my entire New York City life was spent in Alphabet City. I swore I would never move above 14th Street.” But after she met Barnett, she moved to the Upper Westside.
“As much as we loved the surrounding area, it was not a good fit for us. We longed for a neighborhood that felt less suburban and more ‘city.’ This neighborhood is a perfect mix of both,” Jesinkey said. “This area offers a genuine sense of charm, confidence and pride that I never knew existed.”
But some people who were residents of Tribeca at the time of the attacks are wary about the location.
Ivana Kaufman said she stayed and bought a loft, with her husband and two children, because she was offered a price below market value. She said the memory of devastation from the attacks is never far from her mind, especially when she thinks about health-related issues that might stem from the attacks. Kaufman said her long exposure to the area could lead to health problems that haven’t surfaced yet. The family has lived in the same building for more than nine years.
The infusion of millions of dollars in federal funding has helped draw people to Lower Manhattan, fueling a surge in population. City statistics that group Tribeca, Soho, Civic Center and Little Italy for the count show a 16 percent in population to 42,742 last year from 36,757 in 2000. The neighborhood elementary school, Independence P.S. 234, has a waiting list of students and has had to rezone its boundaries.
The neighborhood offers seven nearby dog parks and bike trails on both the East and West sides of Tribeca, the bustling Whole Foods Store that shines in the center below a massive always-crowded Barnes and Noble store, are signs of a community that has recovered. As early as 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Tribeca as the city’s the most expensive neighborhood.
Businesses are thriving. The owners are finding themselves having to keep up with the demand for new products that didn’t have a space on the shelves before the attacks. They are seeing new businesses that didn’t exist years ago. There is a Tracey Anderson Method Studio, which has been known to cater to Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Nicole Richie. High-end loft apartments have celebrity residents who are actors and entertainers, including Jay-Z and Beyonce.
During the dark days after the attacks, businesses all across Greenwich Street pitched in by opening their doors in the evening to the local residents so they could have a meal at night—for free. Now, the owner of Gee Whiz, Chris Panayiotou, said he is amazed at how drastically the area changed.
Rachel Baker, a resident of Tribeca who left the area after the 9/11 attacks, remembers how the acts of terrorism forced her to evacuate her building for 11 days. “I was so angered by the circus of tourists and reporters who came to the area to climb lampposts to take pictures of the ever- smoldering buildings.” Her mother decided to stay in the same apartment.
“You think to yourself, it can happen anywhere, at any time. We stayed [her mother and grandmother],” said Baker, who added that when she goes back to visit her mother, she is surprised to see how different the community is now. “When I look at the community, in the shape it’s in today, it’s as if 9/11 never happened.”
Baker said although she has moved out of the area, she has been left with an upper respiratory condition for the rest of her life.
The city has continued to work hard to build the downtown community both structurally as well as emotionally, and is dealing with concerns the Tribeca neighborhood has about health issues. According to the 2010 Annual Report on 9/11 Health well-documented studies have tracked a variety of respiratory problems with people who have lived and worked in the area during the past 10 years.
Barnett, who lives in the Gehry building, concluded, “9/11 will always be on my mind. What the area does is continue to remind me to never forget what happened and live every day of your life to the fullest. I should hope every New Yorker feels the same, living downtown, or not.”