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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 In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie.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

September 16, 2003

In beginning the writing of this column, I was inspired by an e-mail from my friend John Voelker, who sent out a message to all his friends to let them know how he was in the days following 9/11. I emulated him in an e-mail to my friends, that evolved into this column. John occasionally has sent out other letters since 9/11/01. I would like to share his with you regarding 9/11/02. Here's John's message...


**September 11, 2002 Another View From New York by John Voelker**

September 11 is not going to be a clear, bright, crisp autumn morning, as it
was a year ago. Perhaps that would be too much poetic symmetry. Early this
morning, the humidity is 100% and it'll be intermittently cloudy and windy

More than 2,000 memorial services are scheduled for the NYC area. Vigils will
be held, trees will be planted, religious services will take place. The NY
Stock Exchange will open at 11 am, 90 minutes late. Marches from the
outskirts of all five boroughs, started in the wee hours this morning behind
bagpipe corps, will arrive at Ground Zero around 7:30 am. The names of the
2,801 confirmed dead will be read, started by former mayor Giuliani after a
minute of silence at 8:46 am.

And I really don't want any part of it all.

In re-reading them, a constant theme of my letters from the eight months
after 9/11 was the struggle to return to normal. In New York City, that
generally means work. This is the city of all-nighters, of single people
married to their jobs, of new arrivals with the burn, the drive, the hunger
to make it. So despite the loss of 83,000 jobs -- some predestined by the
recession gathering steam before 9/11 -- New York is back at work.

Commentators note that city economies usually recover quickly from natural
disasters and acts of war or terrorism. London, Jerusalem, Dresden,
Hiroshima, Kobe, San Francisco are all still with us and prosperous.
Apartment prices adjacent to Ground Zero are higher now than a year ago, even
as office vacancy rates rise despite reduced downtown supply: 13.4 million
square feet in six buildings were destroyed, with another 21.1 million square
feet in 23 buildings damaged.

The financial cost of the attacks in New York is estimated at $83 to $95
billion. This includes $21.8 billion in destroyed or damaged buildings, $5.2
billion in lost tenant assets, $1.1 billion in private costs of cleanup and
victim assistance, $900 million in subway damage and $365 million in overtime
by police officers, firefighters, sanitation and other city employees.

Despite war talk and metaphors, in New York the events of 9/11 can be viewed
as a natural disaster. In wars, the talk is not of loss and recovery, but of
common goals and shared sacrifice. While this city pays far less attention to
national politics than Washington would like, I find myself angry that little
sacrifice was asked of the nation in the crucial weeks after 9/11.

A different president might have said to a shocked nation, "We will embark on
a national crusade to reduce our use of imported petroleum by 25% in five
years, and 40% in ten years. We will free ourselves from the shackles of
dependence on other nations' consumable natural resources. We will again seek
our independence as a nation."

Of course, that didn't happen. No "cross of oil" speech resounded throughout
the country. If anything, it seemed we were asked only to continue shopping
and using our credit cards as per usual.

But in a city that erects skyscrapers at the rate of 2 floors a day, much
infrastructural recovery from the disaster has been swift. The 1/9 subway
line will reopen next week, rebuilt as before except for a bare station shell
where Cortlandt Street had been. The barrel-vaulted Winter Garden will reopen
to the public next week, its former entrance from the WTC redesigned as a
two-story sheer glass wall overlooking Ground Zero.

And the process of deciding what will be built -- or not -- at and around
Ground Zero is a full-fledged industry for hundreds of people, a mission for
thousands more. An early round of six proposals that packed 11 million square
feet of office space onto the site was roundly booed, and it may be that this
is the largest site in New York ever designed largely by public consensus. It
promises to be entertaining. In my optimistic moments, I feel it will produce
a far better neighborhood than existed before.

The U.S. Congress came to New York last Friday, though very few people
actually noticed. Only the second time it had met outside Washington, DC,
since it moved there in the early 1800s -- on the site in New York where
George Washington was inaugurated in 1789 -- the gesture was grand but mostly
ignored. United Nations officials could have told the Congressmen how that

We are changed in countless small and large ways. The city seems to me
quieter, more sedate, more reflective. While we all work just as hard -- or
close -- there is a much greater understanding of the essential difference
between work and "real life." Many people focus on little joys, on taking
care of themselves physically and psychically, on valuing their family,
friends, coworkers. Residents and visitors are friendlier to strangers and
those in need.

But we should be, and are, moving on. The sad, predictable separation has
opened up between those most closely affected -- the families, the survivors,
the wounded, the police, firefighters and EMTs -- and those of us less so.

I first noticed this passing through Grand Central in July. The terminal's
two massive waiting rooms had been turned into an art installation called
"Seen From Above -- A Place for Contemplation." Artist Daniel Kohn provided
two huge paintings that recreated the view from high in Tower One, where he
was artist in residence three years ago. Music was commissioned for the
installation, "inspired by themes of hope, solitude and possibility ... meant
to provide a subtly shifting background that transforms this public space
into a place for introspection."

It didn't work.

A couple of dozen people sat in each room, talking or reading. Every single
one of them had their backs to the paintings, utterly unaware of the soft
background music. Many or most New Yorkers I've talked to want to be over

Everyone I know is repulsed by the media's recent week of "all 9/11 all the
time." Can anything new be said? The losses were tremendous. Families and
survivors are in pain. Our lives have changed. New York is a great place.
America is a good country. We will endure and survive and take care of each

We know this.

People want to commemorate, quietly, in their own way, at their own time.

So on this morning one year after our lives changed, I will go to work a
little early. I may buy coffee at the Starbucks that evacuated me a year ago.
On my way, I will look down Sixth Avenue toward the changed skyline. I will
join my coworkers, as we were a year ago, to be with them. We may listen to
the radio. Many people will knock off a little early to spend the evening
with friends and loved ones.

But life, and history, moves inexorably onward. A new year's worth of
arrivals to NYC have no experience of what it was like before 9/11. They
don't remember the sun glinting off the huge silver twins. They haven't
experienced a city so self-absorbed that it was briefly rocked to its
emotional core, and found that we were in fact a giant neighborhood of 8
million people who could help, support and care for each other. To them, 9/11
is something that happened in the past, with little direct connection to them.

These people too will become New Yorkers. They may be marked indirectly, but
they will carry on the life of this great city, changing it as have 300
years' worth of their predecessors.

And that is as it should be.

John Voelker