Precisely a decade after the atrocities of the 9/11 attacks unfolded, the hallowed land of Ground Zero opened first to victims’ families and select VIPs (à la NYC Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama) on Sunday, and then to the broader general public yesterday, largely to a consensus of praise. Powerful, yet simple, the long-awaited memorial successfully invokes a feeling of serenity, setting the stage for a much-needed contemplative space for victims' loved ones left behind, for a city marred by the memory of what was, and for a solace-seeking nation and world at large.
Visitors appeared somber and respectful, surveying the seemingly endless stream of names etched into the bronze-paneled parapets that serve to trace the imprint of the two fallen towers and what is now the centerpiece of the memorial – twin, nearly acre-sized, sunken reflecting pools. These former gaping voids are now fed by the constant cascade of 30-foot waterfalls (the largest man-made waterfalls in North America), which spill over into a granite-lined pit at the center – an effective vestige recalling the absence of what – and who – once stood before.
The sounds of the falling waters not only soothe, but help to muffle the noise of the city and ongoing construction that surrounds the site. Several of the skyscrapers of the new World Trade Center are currently pushing skyward all around the monument, including One World Trade Center – dubbed the Freedom Tower – which will be the tallest building in the U.S. upon its completion in 2013 at 1,776-feet high.
Nearly 3,000 victims are commemorated in the inscriptions, including those from both tower collapses (along with first responders), the four plane crashes, the Pentagon, as well as the six victims from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing – their placements on the memorial are grouped accordingly. For more than 1,100 families who never received remains of their loved ones, the memorial doubles as a veritable tombstone.
Names are listed not alphabetically, but by a system dubbed “meaningful adjacency,” which orders their appearance based on the personal and professional connections between victims. User-friendly electronic directories allow visitors to locate names of those memorialized and to print maps with specific coordinates.
Neat rows of some 400 swamp white oak trees (expected to put on a show of ambers, golden browns, and pinks this fall foliage season) and grassy strips fill out the remainder of the eight-acre plaza. The area will serve as a green roof for the largely underground 9/11 Memorial Museum, scheduled to open in September of 2012, though its entrance will be capped by a pavilion that encapsulates the seven-story, three-pronged steel columns that were one of the few parts of the structures to remain intact. (Tip: Get a sneak peek at what the museum will showcase at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site; 20 Vesey St.).
The memorial design, “Reflecting Absence,” is the brainchild of architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, who won a global design competition held back in 2003 that included more than 5,200 entries from more than 60 countries around the globe.
Though there is no charge for entry, visitors to the National September 11 Memorial must secure timed tickets in advance on the official memorial website, a temporary procedure in effect due to safety concerns associated with the ongoing WTC site construction. The efforts at crowd control, with restrictions of no more than 1,500 people at any given time, were pleasantly received during our visit – lines for entry and security screenings were virtually nil and there was ample room to reflect upon the site without bumping elbows. Note that the memorial is currently booked to capacity through late October, with a reported 400,000 visitors currently signed up – millions are expected in the first year alone. (Tip: A limited supply of same-day passes is available at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, beginning at 9am. However you secure tickets, we recommend booking your visit in the late afternoon/early evening as the memorial takes on an entirely different mood come nightfall, when it's illuminated in a flood of light.)
In many respects, for those that the 9/11 victims left behind and for the New York City community whose spirit and landscape was forever changed on that tragic day, the healing can begin at last. The ground has been kept sacred, the loss of life honored, and a place for peace and quiet contemplation firmly established for generations to come.
Enter at Albany and Greenwich Sts.; 212-312-8800; www.911memorial.org.