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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

Another Voice from Gotham
By Mat Tombers

I want to share something with all of you. On the first or second night of that dark week that followed September 11th, a friend sent out to many of us the first in a series of irregular missives. It was what inspired me to translate my own feelings into an e-mail that went out to my friends and which was the genesis for my column for

John Voelker is the man's name. He is a marketing executive for and has one of the deepest voices of anyone I know. He has a dry sense of humor and is a friend of a friend who has become my friend. We shared the Wednesday night the 12th of September with each other and with a group of friends and acquaintances at a restaurant in Chelsea where we gathered to support one another and to huddle in the warmth of shared comradeship.

What perhaps most united us that night was that both of us went wide eyed when one of the people at the table asked, in all seriousness, if we dropped a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan wouldn't the radiation stop at the border. We were sitting across from one another at a table of twelve and our astonished faces mirrored one another.

It has been a long time since John wrote one of his e-mails but when it came, I wanted to share it with all of you, as his is a good, strong voice and is the voice of another New Yorker making their way through all of this. It is a way of paying tribute to him for his inspiration.

Eight months and counting ... except we're not counting any more. For me and most people I talk to, the events of 9/11 have passed out of daily discussion. They are now part of the context of New York. We all nod to them, allude to their effects. It was a tough winter (facial inflection indicates meaning), business was lousy (nod to fourth-quarter impact of "events"), someone's relationship suffered. A large number of friends are quietly taking anti-depressants.

New Yorkers seem pretty good at parsing the actual effects of 9/11 from economic downturn and the general travails of life. The ability to move on is often roughly proportional to the degree someone was personally affected. I don't know any of "the relatives," though I know a lot of people one degree away. A friend who retired from the NYPD is more immersed than most, having attended dozens of funerals of colleagues and friends. But for many, 9/11 is just not top of mind any more. It will always be there, and many of us have sudden shaky moments. No crying in the streets, but occasional tearing up unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, residential real estate has come roaring back. There may be more window-shoppers and tire-kickers, but apartments are selling almost as quickly as a year ago -- and at close to the same prices. Manhattan brokers are desperate for listings, as are their counterparts upstate. I almost fell the porch when the broker who's offering my place in Woodstock for summer rentals told me what she wanted to ask for selling it. (It's NOT for sale!) If Manhattan real estate is selling at full price, then life has clearly returned to something like normal.

Like others, I looked forward to the "Memorial in Light" -- twin towers of light commemorating the losses of 9/11 -- when it was lit on March 11. But when I first saw it, it seemed wrong. From the mid-20s, it was two pencil-thin beams, barely visible against the night sky and the wash of light at street level. Walking toward it, the beams ended up in the wrong place, not at the foot of Sixth Avenue where the WTC towers had been but closer to the Hudson. And the columns weren't nearly as thick as the towers, and they were too close together.

Only up close were they strong, solid, shining columns of light. Still, the floodlights at Ground Zero washed out the bottoms. And walking back north, turning back frequently to make sure they were still there, they faded until I had to search for them among the rest of the city light at street level.

Perfectly vertical, paired into the sky, they were clearly NOT light-beam replacements for the Twin Towers. And that's what I had wanted -- a pair exactly the same, in the same place and at the same scale, but infinitely tall until they pierced the sky, to recreate ... what was no longer there.

Instead, the Memorial in Light was a mere spectre. A misty image, transparent and half-hidden, of something already starting to fade in memory. A spectre, says Webster's, is "Something preternaturally visible; an apparition; a ghost; a phantom.". And that, I came to understand, was the identity and perhaps the purpose of the Memorial in Light in its month-long appearance. (I looked up "preternaturally," too; it's "Out of or being beyond the normal course of nature." That applies as well.)

The boundaries of the Ground Zero worksite have steadily shrunk. The site itself is now entirely a void. Nothing is visible at ground level except a fence and heavy equipment. Even the massive tide of recovery and cleanup apparatus is starting to ebb. The cleanup will likely end in 2-4 weeks, the "bathtub" foundation secured, scoured clean of debris, the hope for more remains finally snuffed out.

During three weeks in March, almost 1,000 new remains were located in the pile beneath the ramp that had been carved into the debris at the start. Between the samples from relatives and the partial remains recovered, tens of thousands of DNA samples must be matched. It is a task without precedent, and it will end with some remains unidentified forever.

The pace of memorial services has finally slowed to a crawl. Some relatives still have not filed for a death certificate. But just as hope for survivors was dashed in September, the hope for remains -- especially intact remains -- is fading. In a terrible irony, roughly half the lost firefighters have been recovered, their heavy bunker gear having protected some of their bodies during the collapses.

But now, downtown, there is little sense of wreckage or debris or even damage. It all looks like a huge construction site, perhaps as it did in 1968 when it was being built the first time. At Ground Zero, the "bathtub" is a huge empty pit seven stories deep, an empty container with its contents removed ... a void filled with memories and meaning.

At the very bottom, work has begun on a temporary station for the PATH trains from New Jersey. The goal is to reopen around Thanksgiving 2003. Similarly,under the former -- and perhaps future -- Greenwich Street, crews are working to rebuild the damaged IRT subway. A group of relatives of the dead told the press a few weeks ago they were hurt and outraged that work had begun on transit reconstruction before the recovery had ended, before the future of the site was known, before they had been consulted. Many raised their eyebrows at that. For me, it was the first break in unconditional sympathy and support for the relatives. Life must go on -- and in NYC, life often equals mass transit.

As talk of the human losses fades, the question becomes, what will be built? I attended a community session in mid-April, one of dozens that allowed NewYorkers to work in a structured way to produce plans for what we'd like to see on the site. This is the "community input" part of the rebuilding process.

Obviously opinions and desires varied greatly. A New York native of 70-plus wanted it all put back as it had been, but with the towers now twisted in a spiral shape -- and she had brought little models made of clear plastic cosmetics boxes. A preppy office manager in his 40s, a fan of Paolo Soleri, wanted to build a complete arcology with four high-rise towers at the corners. One young woman told her working group several times that she had been at Ground Zero, insisting that anything other than making the entire site a memorial was unacceptable, profane and deeply, deeply offensive. She left halfway through the session; her group was relieved.

But for all that, my neighborhood seems to contain a great many wannabe urbandesigners and architects. And a remarkable consensus emerged in four hours. First, the locations of the tower bases were sacred, and should be included in a memorial. Second, there should be open space, probably as part of a memorial. Third, many people wanted a sense of "twin-ness" -- two of something, to allude to the Towers. Fourth, there should be mixed uses, not solely office space. And fifth, restoring street paths and carefully designing the entrances and borders of the site would tie the results into downtown much better.

Meanwhile, The New York Times points out that the blueprint for site redesign seems to be largely complete, community sessions or not. Private talks among state government, the Port Authority, local government and leaseholder Larry Silverstein (in about that order) have produced important decisions. Interestingly, the plan likely to be presented to the public largely matches the desires of my urban-planner-wannabe neighbors.

The site will have irregular quadrants, defined by remapped north-south (Greenwich) and east-west (Fulton) Streets. The lower left quadrant, 9 acres that conveniently contain both tower bases, will be a memorial, design T.B.D. The other three quadrants, totaling 7 acres, will be built; certainly office towers, perhaps residential and/or cultural uses. West Street will be buried, connecting the World Financial Center and the waterfront to the rest of downtown -- and to the memorial site.

Underneath all of this will be a transit mall tying together a dozen subway lines and the PATH train, linking the World Financial Center to the center of downtown. It will tie into a new ferry terminal (one of several downtown), and perhaps even connect to a shell for a future commuter rail station. Most importantly, this transit mall will BE a mall -- it will contain tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space to replace the money-spinning mall below the WTC.

Yet, as one headline noted, it will be "Years of Work Underground Before Steel Reaches Skyward" above Ground Zero.

On Easter Sunday, I attended services at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the West Village -- my first church service in 18 years. The sermon centered on the story of Mary and Martha attending Jesus' tomb, as described in the gospel of Matthew. The minister pointed out that the angel tells the women to look into the tomb, into the void, perhaps to see for themselves that the body of Jesus is no longer there, and then to go and spread the word of the resurrection. His talk dealt with the notion that we are all changed by peering into the void and by resurrection, that the effects of the one cannot be separated from the other.

Today, seeing the void has become an observance for people from all over the world. Most New Yorkers I know no longer visit; we've done our pilgrimages. Yet the crowds visiting New York and lining up for the viewing platform are as long as ever. They take away little news of resurrection.

But just this week, a construction fence went up one block north of Ground Zero. It surrounds a redefined block that will hold a replacement for the collapsed 7 WTC. The building will rise on a parallelogram plot created to allow the restoration of Greenwich Street, the main north-south artery. By building out to the lot line, making the new building taller, and reducing the total square footage, developer Larry Silverstein will get a replacement tower and Con Ed will get replacement transformers for those destroyed in the collapse.

The building is universally called "the new 7 WTC," though it's highly unclear that six other buildings will be built or even that the World Trade
Center name will survive. In this curious usage, the city has unconsciously chosen its first symbol of a resurrection that will soon take shape in steel and concrete.

In New York, people come and go. The 2,830 victims of 9/11 will never be resurrected (at least in ways understandable by those of us who don't believe in life after death). But more and more often, here and elsewhere, we see buildings brought back from the dead -- refreshed, rethought, reborn.

A resurrection of 7 WTC will not bring back those dead, nor recreate the Twin Towers. (If I recall correctly, Jesus' resurrection did not extend to Justas and Dismas, the thieves with whom he was crucified.) And yet, many of us pause at construction sites, peer through the holes in the fence, look into the excavation, mark the progress of concrete for foundations, the soaring steel girders for structure, and then skin panels and windows to clothe the frame. When we tilt our heads back to watch tiny figures at the top mount an American flag on the highest girder -- a construction worker tradition-- we know that a new building has been born. The construction of the new building will be closely watched. I hope it is visible looking down Sixth Avenue, as the towers were. Its rise will be important. And perhaps some of us will soon tell stories of resurrection.

love, jv.

P.S. A friend of a friend, Chris Barrett of Athabasca University, Alberta,
Canada, has posted the complete series of letters on his weblog. I'm honored,
and it's kind of nice to see them all in one place. If you want to visit,
they're at . As
always, feel free to circulate this if you know people who might be