In the nine years since the attacks of 9/11 I've noticed the neighborhood amidst ground zero, where I live, is rarely factored into the discussions about it. Certainly other constituencies, like the victims' loved ones, have greater claim to the sorrow of the space and the significance of the day, but it seems odd for those of us who live with it, watch on a daily basis the subtle and not so subtle changes here, that we're absent from the continual discussion about it. Many would argue that the last thing ground zero needs is another opinion about it but those of us who have watched our neighborhood suffer, heal, and adapt to it's new purpose may have a unique perspective about, not to mention an actual investment in, a true recovery of this uniquely meaningful little place on earth.
I live two blocks from ground zero. I've watched the lines of iron workers gathering for lunch at the pizza shop on our corner grow in recent years, and then again at the end of the day in their workworn hard hats and "WTC" vests to throw back a few drinks at Uncle Mike's, a tumble of a bar next door. For years, we residents of Tribeca have guided the disoriented tourist to ground zero, until very recently a dusty hole, and with each of these small encounters silently revisit memories of the day; hearing the first plane scream by our apartment, bolting up in bed and shaking my husband to tell him there is going to be a plane crash, feeling every floor hit the earth as they pancaked together and then breathing in the cloud of white dust that turned all our windows opaque and blanketed our neighborhood forever more. "Yes, two blocks down on the right, you can't miss it." We've had to explain far too early to our children, born in the years after 9/11, the jarring images sold by local street merchants to tourists, because no matter how old you are planes, soaring buildings and fire all together create an image that causes questions. In these years the neighborhood as healed, incorporating past tragedy, and changing it, making it part of everyday life, and now, finally, hope for restoration.
And yet this year the neighborhood feels different as the 9th anniversary approaches. There's more hubbub, it's palpable on the street, part of the need to show progress on the site, and there has been lots. The footprints of the twin towers, that will become the memorial and largest man-made waterfall in the world, are now visible. A father of a classmate of my son's heads up of the memorial project and has said, once completed, the sound of the falls will be like white noise in the neighborhood which seems fitting too--since, as residents of ground zero, we already know the political white noise that threatens to drown out the sounds of progress here.
One block south of my apartment, on Park Place, which is one block north of Ground Zero the white noise is already deafening. Park51, the proposed Muslim Community Center, has police stationed in front today. It's an empty shell of a building now on a block that was abandoned well before the devastation that happened one block below it nine years ago. The white noise about Park 51 masks important truths: the Muslim community that wishes to build there has been apart of our neighborhood for years and well before the attacks of September 11. Until 2009, they gathered on Warren Street, two blocks north of the current proposed location until their lease was lost as the building owners opted to change it to residential condos. Those who wish to prohibit our Muslim neighbors from finding a new place of worship locally didn't seem to have a problem when they were in the our neighborhood on September 11, 2001 and were traumatized and evacuated like the rest of us who live and work and worship here. That they wish to invest 200 million dollars back into the neighborhood, revive a deserted block, and join with the community that they have always been apart of gets little push back from those of us who live here. What better way to thumb our noses at terrorists than to show that Muslims stand united with us against terrorism committed in their name and will even help in our rebuilding?
This morning as I headed off to do some errands I saw a new guest in the neighborhood: the "Islam is not a true religion. Repent" truck driving in circles down our street and around to Park and back again. Perhaps it's just that parking is impossible in this neighborhood. But it struck me as a perfect metaphor. A truck like that, a vehicle for such ugly sentiment, will keep driving in circles and never find a place in this neighborhood.