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A YEAR AFTER

'Everything Has Changed' in N.Y.

Recovery: Financial losses are staggering, there's a growing sense of mortality, and ground zero's future is contested.

September 08, 2002|JOSH GETLIN and GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — Minutes after two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, a packed subway train crawling into Midtown Manhattan showed how the city had changed in a heartbeat: Commuters who normally wouldn't look at each other were hugging emotionally.

A year after the terrorist attacks, those same subway cars are filled with busy people minding their own business, and the Big Apple hums with its old manic energy. But New York is not back in the groove. Sept. 11 profoundly transformed the city, triggering psychological, political, economic and cultural changes that are only now beginning to be understood.

Proud New Yorkers got back to work in a hurry after Sept. 11, yet the economic effect of the attacks has been devastating: More than 100,000 people lost their jobs, and hundreds of shops closed in such neighborhoods as Chinatown and TriBeCa. Controller William Thompson estimated last week that the financial loss to New York could total $95 billion.

Although tourism and culture have rebounded, the city's creative life is haunted by a growing sense of mortality. New York's grinding development battles continue, but the biggest planning controversy in 50 years--what to do with 16 acres at ground zero and how to design a lasting memorial--has focused on spiritual as well as real-estate values.

"What I tell people is that, outwardly, nothing dramatic here seems to have changed except for the absence of two very big buildings downtown," said author and sociologist Todd Gitlin. "But everything has changed. We're living in a different world now, and there's no map to describe it."

Much the same could be said about the nation as a whole. Yet New York--along with Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.--experienced the trauma of the attacks more immediately and personally than the rest of America. Indeed, a majority of New Yorkers view them as the biggest life-changing event of the last year, compared with 38% of the rest of Americans, according to a new national poll on attitudes toward Sept. 11 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

"For the vast majority of Americans, the attacks were a terrible thing they saw on television," said Kenneth Jackson, president of the New York Historical Society and author of the Encyclopedia of New York City. "But millions of people in this area saw the towers burning. They smelled the terrible toxic residue of it for months to come. It was totally real."

As the anniversary approaches, Americans are immersed in remembrance and memorials. Yet the grieving here never stopped. Beyond a giant hole in the sky, Jackson said, "there are many other wounds that have yet to heal."

The psychological damage from Sept. 11 may be the most lasting.

From the beginning, proximity to the event--how close any New Yorkers or anyone they knew came to the towers that day--has determined how it affected them. Thus, 500,000 adults in the New York area now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study reported in the Aug. 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. And that does not account for the 75,000 New York City public-school children also suffering from the disorder. More than two-thirds of them have received no treatment.

Ronnie Hirsh, a Manhattan psychotherapist, has monitored the mental health of many New Yorkers: their resilience and down-ticks, their denial and revelations. He has counseled numerous police officers who saw the falling bodies, and ordinary residents who fled the rushing billows of dust.

He has also had to walk west every morning to get to his office from his Greenwich Village apartment and has looked downtown for the missing towers. Now, at age 52, this New Yorker is determined to leave, to uproot, to relocate. He and his wife are considering moving to Virginia Beach, Va., or working overseas. The stock market decline has foiled any early retirement plans.

"I had a former patient who came back, whose young son was killed in the towers," Hirsh said. "To lose a child in any circumstance is extremely devastating. But this was too much.

"I feel more inadequate in this city, and not just professionally. I don't know what to tell people anymore."

Just how jittery are some New Yorkers?

Matt Roshkow, a screenwriter, and his wife, Helaine Olen, a journalist, recently bought their 2 1/2-year-old son, Jake, a bunch of balloons, then stopped for pizza in a Manhattan restaurant.

"Jake let go of the balloons and they hit a ceiling fan. They went off one by one," Roshkow said. "The young guy in front of us ducked for cover under the table. There was a kind of jumpiness in the air."

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Tighter Security

Wariness. Vigilance. Suspicion. These are increasingly common responses to life here, and security precautions are more visible. Most high-rise office buildings now screen visitors, asking for ID; some have installed metal detectors. New York police routinely close off downtown intersections if suspicious packages are left unattended on the sidewalk.

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