On the eve of ceremonies to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attack on New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered an upbeat progress report on the city's response to the attacks.
The Mayor painted a positive picture of New York five years after the attacks, saying New York's gross city product is expected to reach an all time high this year, more than $442 billion.
Bloomberg said the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, and the World Trade Center site, is a key part of New York's future. "In the days immediately following 9/11, city, state and federal leaders came together with downtown business leaders to create a framework for transforming lower Manhattan into a true 21st century downtown, a vibrant and attractive commercial and residential community. The process for implementing that plan has not always been smooth or seamless or moved at the pace we would like. But the fact remains that today more than 30 billion dollars is being invested in public and private construction," he said.
Thursday the developer of the World Trade Center site unveiled new designs for a trio of office towers to be built by 2012. Four shining diamonds atop one of the towers will light up lower Manhattan after dark. The skyscrapers will contribute to remaking the New York skyline along with the centerpiece of the project, called the Freedom Tower, which is scheduled to open in 2011. So far, one office building has been completed at the site, but it has yet to fill up with tenants.
Bloomberg says he recognizes the frustration New Yorkers feel about the debates over design and delays due to security that have stalled rebuilding at Ground Zero. "Five years is a long time, but if you realize that we're going to build buildings that are going to survive for fifty or a hundred years, the most important thing is that you do it right. That you do it in a way that is economically viable, that helps the rest of downtown and the rest of New York City," he said.
According to a new public opinion survey more than 60 percent of New Yorkers are not willing to work on a high floor at the site. The poll also found that more than 69 percent of New Yorkers worry about another attack, compared to 22 percent outside of the city.
A local survey found New Yorkers think air quality in lower Manhattan after the attacks was more dangerous then the public was told. And a new study released by the Mount Sinai Medical Center found that 70 percent of the first responders and workers at Ground Zero suffered from new or substantially worsened respiratory problems.
Local members of Congress are pressuring the federal government to provide long-term health care programs for workers exposed to toxin at the site and others who live and work in the area. Congressman Jerrold Nadler is asking for a federally-funded medical center to focus on 9/11-related illnesses and research tracking people exposed to contaminated air.
"We may have more people dying because of the government's improper decisions than because of the direct attack on the World Trade Center. It remains to be seen who caused more casualties, Osam bin Laden or the Environmental Protection Agency and we won't know that for another 30 or 40 years."
Bloomberg says officials tried to do the best they could at the time and did not mislead the public. "Nobody understood the magnitude, nobody knew whether there would be health issues down the road, and they made the decision that were right at the time," he said.
Last month New York Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill providing help for those who became ill while working at the site. And New York City's Health Department recently released a set of guidelines to help doctors recognize and treat illnesses related to the attacks.
Despite the controversies, Bloomberg says downtown New York is on the mend. "We are, in short, I think it is fair to say, well on our way to rebuilding and reinventing Lower Manhattan. So that in the 21st century it and our entire city will be a place that draws people from around the world to live and work and contribute to a better world. Over past five years we really have made extraordinary strides in realizing that vision, a vision of freedom and progress that the terrorists can never extinguish," he said.
Bloomberg says film and television production is experiencing robust growth, the construction industry is booming, and corporations are relocating their headquarters to the city, reversing a decade-long decline and requiring more office space. He points to statistics that show New York as the safest big city in the United States as yet another sign of the city's recovery.