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Post-9/11 New York: Checks & Balances


New Yorkers are preparing to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that devastated the World Trade Center and changed their day-to-day way of life.

The September 11th terrorist attacks transformed Manhattan into an island of high security and occasional personal insecurity. Soldiers still patrol all major transportation hubs and historic sites. Security guards now inspect purses, briefcases and shopping bags at the entrances to department stores, theaters and office buildings. Many workers carry I.D. badges or computerized cards to gain entrance to their workplaces.

Subway Checks

Random inspections by police on subways are the most controversial of the security checks put in place.

New Yorker Beau Sim calls the subway checks unnecessary, "I think it's a false sense of security to check people's bags. I don't think that's where it is going to be."

Others, like model Ron Marte, a former U.S. Marine, give the subway inspections mixed grades.

"I think the checkpoint idea is good, but, seriously speaking, I think it's a waste of money. Random searches are ridiculous," says Marte. "You're getting checked, but what happens the day people don't get checked and not everyone gets checked?"

Opinion polls consistently show that large numbers of New Yorkers worry about another attack, particularly the potential use of biological agents on the subways. Recent revelations of a plot to blow up commuter trains underscored such fears.

Still, Mary Cossaboom asks, what's a New Yorker to do? "I take the subway all the time and you just have to take it, you have to go. I love New York. I wouldn't leave at all," says Cossaboom.

Living in New York

New Yorkers are well aware of the threats, but most say their lives have not profoundly changed.

Until recently, financial officer Lori Camm worked in a building near the World Trade Center site. She says caution has become second nature.

"I don't stand next to trashcans. I don't stand next to suitcases. It's just common sense, precaution that you learn, and it's too bad that it has to be that way," says Camm.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, observers wondered if people would flee the city, and officials feared that a decline in tourism would become permanent. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. New York is experiencing a boom in tourism. Hotels are being built everywhere. Broadway shows have just posted a record-breaking year. And housing prices continue to climb.

Mary Cossaboom recently visited tourist sites with a young niece from out-of-town. A New Yorker, she says, has to weigh the pros and cons of living in the city these days.

"I think it makes me more conscientious about things, about watching for things. Maybe that's not always so positive because I tend to get a little jumpier when I hear sirens or when I hear loud noises. That tends to make me a little bit more nervous," says Cossaboom. "But I think it's also made me, in a good way, pay more attention to all the positive things around me and my family and friends."

Lori Camm admits 9/11 made life less comfortable. But she says there are tradeoffs.

"All my family lives in New York. I lived in England for a number of years, where you learn to watch out for possible terrorists. Actually, the chances of being injured are still quite small compared to, say, a crash in a car. It's not a particularly rational thing to do, although New York City's a target," says Camm.

In a city where waiting on line for security checks has become a way of life, where umbrellas are treated as potential weapons and where sirens still provoke a moment of stillness, New Yorkers like Ron Marte continue to exhibit the feisty spirit for which New York is known.

"It's ridiculous leaving the city because that happened. You mourn it; you get over it, and then you carry on with your life. I hope it will never happen again," says Marte.

Memorial Debate

As the fifth anniversary approaches, New Yorkers are considerably less understanding about the delayed redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

The most acclaimed architects in the world competed with designs for a memorial, a cultural center and an office and residential complex at Ground Zero. Then disagreements erupted, pitting commercial developers against designers, victims' families against arts groups, city and state officials against downtown residents. Everyone agrees the seven-hectare site should be a showcase for world-class architecture. But everyone seems to have a different view of what that means.

Daniel Libeskind, the master architect of the project, says even the height of the buildings was controversial.

"There are many people who believed that we should build one story houses after the attack. I was not one of them. Nor were New Yorkers. The idea of a tall building did not emanate from me," says Libeskind. "It emanated from New Yorkers who voted overwhelmingly that Ground Zero should have an iconic high-rise building."

Security concerns soon modified the initial designs for the "Freedom Tower," the centerpiece of the complex. High costs led to changes in the memorial design. To date, one office building has been completed, and a transportation hub is under way.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers wait to see what happens, with over 70 percent saying visible progress at Ground Zero this year is an important symbol of recovery.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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