Did 9/11 change the way New Yorkers consider their cultural heritage? By Miléna Chapot

“ Each man reads his own meaning into New York” Meyer Berger

According to Wikipedia, cultural heritage is the attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present, and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural heritage can be tangible (buildings, monuments, art), intangible (legends, traditions, knowledge) or natural (landscapes, biodiversity).

“It isn't like the rest of the country - it is like a nation itself - more tolerant than the rest in a curious way. Littleness gets swallowed up here. All the viciousness that makes other cities vicious is sucked up and absorbed in New York.” John Steinbeck

New York’s cultural heritage may be viewed in two ways. The first, that of non-New Yorkers, it is “the city that never sleeps", “the big Apple”, the metropolis that has inspired so many artists it is almost untouchable and sacred. The second point of view is that of the New Yorker himself, whether he lives in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan. The New Yorker is proud of his heritage just as much as the Parisian is proud of Paris. However, for the New Yorker, “you start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it. (…) The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone” (in Lost and Found by Colson Whitehead).

The City should not be regarded as only having tangible cultural heritage sites, but the buildings, monuments and art also have intangible significance. It is almost as if the New Yorkers regard the city as their safety net, the one place on earth that they may call Home whatever part of the world they come from originally. Every aspect of the city is heritage, the streets, the lights, the sounds, the colors, the smell; one’s routine in the Big Apple could itself be considered as cultural.

“There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man's bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.” Walt Whitman

However, on September 11th 2001, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center changed the New Yorker’s vision of their city forever. The image of the untouchable city, sacred to those who live in it was destroyed. The reactions to the terrorist attack in the long run are mostly a reaffirmation of New Yorker’s determination to protect their city.

The impact of 9/11 extends beyond geopolitics into society and culture in general. The immediate response was a greater focus on home life and on time spent with family. Almost everyone in New York knows someone who has lost a loved one in the tragedy. The first thing every New Yorker did after the attack was to try to find in the chaos their loved ones and make sure they were safe. A higher church attendance was noted, and increasing patriotism as shown by increased display of flags. In the community, New Yorkers tend to feel more concern for each other than before. Immediately after the attack, there was a surge of solidarity. Bumper stickers declared: “United we Stand” or “Praying for the families of the victims”.

Each year, ceremonies are held on the 11th of September bringing New Yorkers together to remember in silence the tragedy that struck New York. The immense media coverage of these ceremonies shows the world that New Yorkers will not forget.

As Michael Oreskes wrote in his article New York's 9/11, and Not Letting Go : “Not only do New Yorkers morn the loss of their loved ones, they also feel differently. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, New York's prevailing mood is to resist the city's natural tides of forgetting, of moving on”.

They also decry the loss of the Twin Towers, a major part of their cultural heritage. "There is going to be a whole generation of people growing up and people who never visited New York who will have no conception whatsoever of how big the towers were, how beautiful they were and how iconic they were, how many different vantage points there were where you could see them" (anonymous).

The moment the Towers crashed to the ground, a part of New York disappeared with them. As their name suggested, they represented commerce and a city that was committed to the world, not just to the one country or army.

However, the reconstruction of an even higher tower on Ground Zero is proof to the world that New Yorkers are defiant and strong. Even though the new building is not yet finished, it is already part of the city’s heritage. The new tower’s name is 1WTC; it was going to be called the Freedom Tower. Its cost has been estimated at $3.8 billion, the most expensive tower in the world to date. New York City is giving $250 million and the remaining amount is being raised by the sale of bonds through the Port Authority. This astonishing cost demonstrates the importance New Yorkers give to affirming their culture. It shows their determination in the face of terrorism and chaos...

"The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic, and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.” Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of NYC.

Before the 11th of September 2001, New Yorkers considered the entire city to be their heritage. They considered every aspect of it as part of their culture. However, with the events of 9/11, cultural heritage took on a new significance. The people decided the fate of their city; they could have chosen to forget the tragic event or to commemorate it. They had the choice to leave the ground bare or to rebuild... It is how New Yorkers reacted that transformed what they thought cultural heritage meant. The inhabitants used to believe that the city was what made them New Yorkers, but they have come to realize that it is the people that make the place...

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