Big Apple lost its arrogance with its twin towers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 September, 2002, 12:00am

Everybody looks up when low-flying aircraft pass over New York these days. The subways stop frequently because passengers are more aware of left packages or suspicious white dust. And firemen and police are afforded a level of regard once reserved for astronauts or war heroes.

Apart from the gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline, the terror attacks of September 11 have left countless indelible marks on the city and its people.

From the flags that flutter from car side-mirrors to the shuttered up businesses of lower Manhattan, for the past year New York has lived an uncomfortable life that is a shadow of its former self.

The attacks not only knocked out the city's tallest buildings, they also knocked out the confidence of its citizens.

In the boom years of the 1990s, New Yorkers arrogantly knew their city had done more than any other to fuel the longest sustained period of economic growth in the nation's history.

Now, there is a hunted and haunted element to their demeanour. Cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs that once heaved with beautiful people these days are muted and half-empty.

Friday afternoons are especially sad occasions. A year ago, the Wall Street bars would have roared with the drunken enthusiasm of brokers, traders and clerks beginning their weekends of hedonism with an after-work binge. Fridays this year have seen the bars devoid of business and atmosphere. Some have closed due to lack of patrons; others simply shut down earlier in the day.

The streets tell a similar story. Discounting the exodus of the rich and trendy that happens between every June and September, the canyons of Manhattan have been deathly quiet this summer. Visitors are keeping away in their millions fearing more terror attacks, discouraged by three-hour waits at airport check-ins or apprehensive about the city's downbeat atmosphere.

Central Park, whose bucolic beauty once attracted hundreds of thousands of sun worshippers on balmy days, has been relatively empty, even as the past summer months produced some of the hottest days on record during a two-month heat wave.

And then there has been Ground Zero; the focus of grief, anger and patriotic pride. For most of the past year, it was demolition site, a sickening scene of death and twisted metal from which each day yielded remains of those who perished in the World Trade Centre's collapse.

But most of all there was the hole in the skyline; the void that symbolises the hollowness many New Yorkers have been left feeling.

Unless you had visited New York before, you would not understand just how omnipresent those towers were. Although not universally loved, they were universally recognised; a beacon visible from kilometres away - arrogantly stamping the Big Apple's presence on the landscape.

With them gone, the city has been cut down to a size that does not sit well with its place in the nation's heart.