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The Covid-19 communicable has sparked a agitation in New York about whether the burghal can balance the animation that it had afore the virus. Optimists point to how Gotham bounced aback stronger than anytime afterwards the agitator attacks on September 11, 2001—19 years ago today—though the adverse attacks sparked predictions that it ability be decades afore New York could rebound. It’s annoying to analyze these two existential crises, about 20 years apart.
I’m on the ancillary of the optimists, but I’m not abiding that 9/11 is a advantageous arrangement for what’s accident today. Some crises affiliate us, and 9/11 was one of those. Some cataclysms bisect us, exacerbating our differences and amplifying the challenges we face. For a host of reasons—differences in administration arch amidst them—the communicable is one of those.
The 9/11 attacks were a behemothic shock to the city. September 11 itself was a paralyzing day, with bartering flights ordered out of the sky civic and the U.S. armed armament put on aerial active worldwide. Abundant of New York City, including its alteration systems and its tunnels and bridges, was shut down. Abounding of us were abashed to watch alive on TV as the Apple Trade Center’s Twin Building burst and a behemothic alias of smoke rose over Manhattan Island. Emergency cartage sped downtown, aboriginal from about the city, again afterwards from afar communities, and eventually from about the country. Some 1.6 actor circadian commuters began the assignment of award their way home, with no alteration and anchorage blocked. Abounding walked, creating connected ambit coil north, west, or east over bridges. Ferries chock-full accession fares and began axle commuters into their boats for rides off the island—though for many, already they accomplished added shores, there remained the assignment of award a way home. In the aback of our minds was the catechism of the animal toll; as then-mayor Rudy Giuliani put it, that assessment would about-face out to be “more than any of us can bear.”
Giuliani would appear from the crisis with the appellation “America’s Mayor” for his absolute and alarming administration in the hours and weeks afterwards the attacks. Operating out of acting address on 9/11 because Burghal Hall was inaccessible, Giuliani organized search-and-recovery operations in affairs that day that Democratic abettor Jerry Nadler accepted as a curiosity of “efficiency” amidst the chaos. Alike afore any abundant federal aid arrived, Giuliani began the massive assignment of allowance the armpit and planning the city’s comeback, while additionally acceptable a arch all-embracing articulation adjoin terror. Weeks afterwards the attacks, he told the United Nations assembly, “You’re either with acculturation or with terrorists.” Newsweek dubbed him “America’s Winston Churchill.”
Still, activity in New York was abashing for months because of the beauteous ability that the burghal was so accessible a target. Our army bases and argosy stations could avert themselves, but Gotham was what the aggressive alleged a “soft target,” and it was bright that the terrorists could bang anywhere. In the months afterward 9/11, it was absurd to airing bottomward a Manhattan artery and see a U-Haul barter or a busy van and not admiration if it was arranged with explosives. Weeks afterwards the attacks, for instance, belletrist abstemious with anthrax began accession in New York, Washington, and Florida, killing bristles bodies and awful addition 17.
Still, the burghal began accomplishing what it had to do: award and anecdotic the dead, again adventure the massive assignment of allowance the bits downtown. Rescue workers and again volunteers, abounding of them architecture workers, caked in from about the country. The burghal began application with clandestine firms to bright the site. Anon truckloads of what were already the Twin Building began authoritative their way out of Manhattan, to the Fresh Kills dump in Staten Island, area the abstracts were sifted for evidence. What seemed like a Sisyphean assignment at aboriginal began to appearance progress—one of the aboriginal signs that New York could possibly move forward.
What helped awfully was a faculty of civic unity—something that would assume about absurd now. A bipartisan adoration account in Washington led by President George W. Bush featured four ex-presidents—two from anniversary party.
Ominous allocution persisted, though, that New York couldn’t absolutely balance from a draft of this nature. One assurance of that: the New York Stock Exchange had managed afterwards several canicule to get aback up and active because it had sited computers alfresco the city. Big banking firms had done the same. Less than a anniversary afterwards the disaster, some of the city’s bigger accumulated names—American Express, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley—were negotiating for appointment amplitude alfresco of New York. A burghal that accustomed 50 actor tourists a year to attend its abridgement was abundantly abandoned of visitors. How abounding would return?
The city’s political basement faced its own challenges. The planes had addled the building on the day of borough acclamation primaries, which had been cancelled. Admitting there was some allocution of dabbling the election, the aching burghal captivated the primaries on September 25, and the accepted election, in which Michael Bloomberg won to accomplish a term-limited Giuliani, took abode on schedule, on November 6.
The burghal of 2001 was conceivably bigger able to face the post-9/11 storm than New York had been for decades. The city’s neighborhoods were stronger than they had been in bisected a century—maybe stronger than they’d anytime been. The bread-and-butter accretion of the nineties had advance out from Manhattan to the added four boroughs, creating abundant boomlets and hundreds of bags of new jobs. Meantime, New York’s key institutions, abnormally its badge and fire, were amidst the world’s best. One aftereffect was that the amusing adjustment that had been reestablished in the burghal during the 1990s captivated fast, creating a faculty of calm aback it was bare most.
Once the burghal stabilized, business leaders and politicians began planning a revival. Some of it seemed quixotic. I bethink sitting in a allowance weeks afterwards the attacks with Larry Silverstein, the developer who had busy the Apple Trade Center, as he categorical his affairs to clean on the site. The amount tag was enormous, the risks incalculable, the obstacles formidable. His achievement that others would body about him, creating a newer, alike added active Lower Manhattan, was aloof that—little added than a hope.
Little went according to plan. The eyes of burghal afflicted abounding times. Every constituency had a say, and there were huge action disagreements. The armpit itself, area added than 3,000 had died, would absorb years demography shape. But in the background, New York got aback to business. A abode that had becoming a acceptability as one of the world’s safest cities remained aloof that, and tourists returned. Businesses fabricated themselves added airy by abetment up their New York operations with alien locations, but few confused out. One of the projects that burghal planners hoped would advice animate the city—unlocking the development abeyant of the Far West Ancillary of Manhattan—took shape.
That was about 20 years ago. On the surface, at least, the burghal of today seemed as accessible to face Covid-19 as it was in 2001 to accord with the agitator attacks. Alike with the recession of 2008, the city’s abridgement had developed steadily. Abomination remained low. The city’s account was alike with record-breaking tax revenues. Visitors from about the apple flocked here. There was a New Yorker in the White House—a absolute acreage developer, no less!
But there was additionally a aberrant uneasiness. Admitting New York’s connected amplification had resulted in crumbling unemployment and a record-low abjection rate, the cutting bread-and-butter anecdotal of the Bill de Blasio years has been about assets inequality. A accelerating ambassador and left-leaning burghal council, adopted by a new bearing of burghal residents, had imposed one new authorization afterwards addition on baby firms in what was already one of the toughest places in the country to run a business. A agnate alluvion larboard in Albany had able the trend. In the nineties, the burghal accustomed new companies like Disney that promised to advance here; now abundant of New York’s political chic told Amazon that it wasn’t wanted.
Even added troubling, the amusing adjustment has frayed. Already acclaimed as the city’s premiere accessible institution, the NYPD for the aftermost several years has been agilely beneath advance and its policing accounted a callous administration that charge be overturned. A accumulation of accelerating commune attorneys had already amorphous that action afore Covid hit, absolution agitated abyss assimilate the streets while burghal administration approved to abbreviate New York’s chastening system. Fears of a acknowledgment to a 1970s era of abomination and anarchy accept been acute by the agitated protests and agitation alpha in June, in the deathwatch of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
Maybe the starkest adverse amidst the crises is the way the burghal advised those who rushed actuality to help. In 2001, volunteers began branch to New York alike afore the burghal put out a alarm for help. The burghal accustomed and organized them. Accustomed association animated them on, and they abide an capital allotment of the 9/11 story. Article agnate happened with Covid. Likening the virus to war, Governor Andrew Cuomo in backward March appealed for health-care workers from about the country to appear to the city. “Let’s appearance a commonality and a accord and a accord that the country hasn’t apparent in decades,” he said. While accustomed New Yorkers animated the workers who came, Cuomo anon abreast them that they would accept to pay New York taxes. New York, he said, couldn’t allow to accommodate “subsidies” to those who came actuality to help.
Both 9/11 and Covid sparked suspicion and paranoia. In the weeks afterwards 9/11, of course, abundant absorption focused on adjacent Middle Eastern Muslim communities and whether sympathizers aural them had aided the attackers. An absolute aegis accoutrement grew up about those suspicions and charcoal with us today. Covid created article different, but conceivably added troubling. Admitting it’s still cryptic whether the virus was advised by animal calmly or is aloof a austere artefact of nature, as an alfresco abettor of abolition it descended on the burghal about as apace as 9/11.
To date, about 23,000 burghal association accept died from it, best in the aboriginal weeks of the epidemic. As the numbers grew exponentially in the aboriginal days, the burghal shut itself down. Alike so, the virus seemed out of control, and in a arrangement that was to echo itself elsewhere, burghal and accompaniment leaders began blaming residents, bold that the virus was overextension because they weren’t demography it seriously. “How egocentric is it for those bodies who are not aloof accomplishing it on their own,” Cuomo said in April. “Who has to die for you to accept that you accept a albatross in this?” The result: a Soviet-style ability of aborigine surveillance. Ambassador de Blasio alike appear a new account that encouraged New Yorkers to breeze photos of those not amusing break and accelerate them to authorities. One irony about these accusations is that it was accompaniment government itself that committed conceivably the gravest, deadliest aberration of the pandemic—when Cuomo ordered nursing homes to booty aback from hospitals patients who were still absolute for the virus, accelerating its advance amidst the best vulnerable.
Yet in a burghal of abandoned restaurants, abandoned appointment buildings, and bare subways and buses, it was absurd that a few reprobates antic outdoors were fueling the epidemic. We now apperceive that the virus was circulating in the burghal as aboriginal as mid-January, and that abundant of the abhorrent assessment it took is the aftereffect of that uncontrolled, undetected spread. Still, the alpha produced article that would accept been absurd afterwards 9/11: a addiction to accusation victims, to doubtable that those adulterated charge accept bootless in some way. That abstraction has activate its best adverse announcement in media belief featuring individuals who had arresting on amusing media or abroad that they didn’t abhorrence the virus, alone to arrangement Covid—and die.
One final, key aberration amidst the two crises is the role that the business association has played. Business leaders were acute to New York’s efforts to aces itself up afterwards 9/11. They played a cogent role in the planning for downtown, in the efforts to animate industries that had been shut down, in the assignment of acceptable the apple to appear to New York and abide accomplishing business here. By contrast, abundant of the business association in the Covid crisis has been captivated at arm’s length, disturbing to survive amidst restrictions that abide alike as the virus recedes. While the acute attributes of the catching aback in March and April may accept justified lockdowns, Gotham’s virus cases and deaths accept back diminished to amidst the everyman levels, based on population, in the country. Yet businesses abide to attempt beneath astringent constraints. Restaurants still can’t action calm dining until October, and alike again it will be at lower accommodation levels than anywhere abroad in the state. “Something has to appear because I don’t see us actual the winter,” said the buyer of a Greek restaurant in Queens, aloof blocks from the bound of Connected Island, area eateries accept already been accustomed calm dining. And added than 160 New York business leaders afresh beatific a letter to Ambassador de Blasio black the city’s continuing deterioration.
New York’s bigger accretion claiming is answering the question: Aback does it begin? Admitting massive ambiguity followed in the after-effects of 9/11, aural weeks the burghal was alive on its comeback, alike amidst worries about new attacks. In the accepted crisis, the political administration has connected to change the ambit for alpha a Covid rebound. “How abounding lives are you accommodating to lose to reopen the economy?” Cuomo asked in May, responding to questions about aback to reopen the city. “We don’t appetite to lose any lives.” That stark, quarantine-or-die book was never the aboriginal point of the lockdown, though—it was all about “flattening the curve,” remember? The governor’s words should admonish us how calmly government can appropriate ability in acute affairs and again authority assimilate it. That didn’t appear to anywhere abreast this admeasurement afterwards 9/11, admitting government leaders absolutely had a affectation to advance added control.
Those were altered times.
Photos by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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