Downtown’s post-9/11 renaissance transformed a symbol of tragedy into symbol of hope

Jessica Lappin, who was named president of the Downtown Alliance Feb. 3, 2014.
Jessica Lappin is president of the Downtown Alliance.


The renaissance of Downtown after the dark days following September 11th is a remarkable story. It’s a testament to all who live here, work here, invest here and have worked together to not only restore New York City’s First Neighborhood, but build an engine of growth and hope for the entire city.

By any measure, Lower Manhattan is utterly transformed. From what was only a nascent 24/7 live-work community in 2000 — one that still largely emptied out after work hours and on weekends — every corner of the community is now teeming with activity at all hours of the day and evening. An extraordinary number of those who work here also live and play here:  the census shows that 26.5% of the neighborhood’s employed residents walk to work, versus 10.1% for the city as a whole. That kind of intertwined and intimate relationship to place for Lower Manhattanites helps build the strength of our community fabric.

With a residential population that has nearly tripled since 2000, tourism numbers cresting towards 15 million annual visitors, exponential growth in retail and restaurants — with now more than 1,200 stores and restaurants — and the rapid transformation of the area’s commercial tenancy from one dominated by financial services to a robust and diverse mix of finance, law, media, technology and advertising, Lower Manhattan has built itself into a model of what a mixed used downtown can look like.

While the opening of One World Trade Center in November of 2014 was an important symbolic achievement in post-9/11 recovery, another milestone this past year brought a different, perhaps more tangible kind of proof of the area’s renaissance: private sector employment in Lower Manhattan reached its highest level since the 9/11 attacks. This restoration of the local economy occurred despite the substantial contraction of the financial sector in 2008 and the blows dealt to us by Sandy in 2012.  Lower Manhattan’s resilient economy now also employs New Yorkers of widely varying levels of skills and education who hail from every neighborhood of the city.

And it’s only just begun. In 2015, the investment of billions of dollars of capital projects began coming online in the form of state-of-the-art office buildings, brand new places to shop and dine, new tourist attractions, hotels and apartment buildings. This investment and development will usher in the most significant and sustained period of job growth seen in Lower Manhattan in the last 30 years. Not only will the area outdo itself, but rates of job growth and GDP expansion in Lower Manhattan will outpace citywide estimates for the years ahead — establishing Downtown as one of the most important centers of economic activity in the ctiy and the state.

Lower Manhattan today is a major center of employment for New York City residents, who make up some 70 percent of the area’s workforce. In fact, every neighborhood of New York City benefits from employment opportunities Downtown.  On average, 3,436 people commute to work in Lower Manhattan every day from all neighborhoods across the city, and that’s not counting neighborhoods south of 96th St. in Manhattan. The diverse private sector economy provides employment opportunities for people of all levels of skill and education, including approximately 100,000 people working in occupations that do not require a four-year college degree.

Perhaps most excitingly, we anticipate a new surge of employment growth and economic activity in Lower Manhattan, with the expected addition of an estimated 40,000 new private sector payroll jobs between 2015 and 2020.  Approximately two-thirds of these jobs are expected to be net new jobs to the city.  This growth would transform Lower Manhattan into a powerhouse for the city and the state — as employment Downtown is expected to grow by an average annual rate almost twice that of the city as a whole.

Fifteen years after our greatest icon became a symbol of tragedy for the nation, Downtown refused to be defined by it, and instead took the opportunity to remake itself even better than before — building new icons, and creating the most dynamic neighborhood in the greatest city in the world. Lower Manhattan now thrives in ways unimaginable immediately after that dark day. Together, this community has built an exciting present and a promising future. Together, we will face whatever challenges confront us.  Together, we have proved Lower Manhattan can achieve amazing things.

Jessica Lappin is president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.