Beyond the boundaries of Ground Zero, the most significant change in the lower Manhattan skyline since 9/11 has been the new growth of residential skyscrapers. The southern tip of the island has sprouted a bevy of conspicuous, competitive, and highly individualistic towers. Very tall and generally slender, as befits the development strategy of luxury condos, many are designed by acclaimed architects whose celebrity adds marketing value. Eclectic in form and façades, there is no consistent style that marks them of their moment – yet their very presence in the skyline connects them to the monumentally significant events of 9/11.
Downtown’s evolution into a mixed residential neighborhood – which was initiated by the City in the mid-1990s, but catastrophically interrupted in 2001, as well as by the financial crisis of 2008 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – has doubled the residential population without drastically altering the historic urban fabric. A key dynamic of change has been the conversion of older office buildings into apartments – ranging in character from iconic landmarks such as the Woolworth Building and One Wall Street to back-office glass boxes of the 1960s and 70s. The population of lower Manhattan, which was 39,000 in 2000, now tops 82,000 residents.
In the past two decades, Downtown has faced daunting challenges of rebuilding and reinvention that were met through adaptive reuse, government incentives for density, and valuing historic preservation, as well as new construction. The hopeful model of transformation offers relevance for our COVID-recovery era.