Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, ground zero remains a 16-acre, 70-foot-deep hole in the heart of Lower Manhattan. High above it, a scaffolded bank building, contaminated during the attack, hulks like a metal skeleton, waiting endlessly to be razed.
On the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11, Deborah Sontag shared her epic tale of New York, filled with rapacious developers, starry architects and sniping politicians. Sontag began with the question: Why, five years later, was there still a gaping hole in Lower Manhattan? This question, over the course of five months, took her to Albany and countless offices of lawyers, architects, engineers, developers and financiers.
Along the way, Sontag painted exacting and lively portraits of the players who make up this saga. On ground zero developer Larry Silverstein: “a preternaturally zippy man who has been cast in an unlikely starring role.” On architect Daniel Libeskind: “whose bubbly, pixyish demeanor contrasts almost comically with his severe black clothing and rectangular eyeglasses, has a talent for packaging his own stories and ideas.” On ground zero itself: “a sinkhole of good intentions where it was as difficult to demolish a building as to construct one.”
Despite $20 billion in federal money and $4.6 billion anticipated in insurance proceeds, however, the site’s two central projects, the Freedom Tower and the memorial, have stumbled financially, as in every other way.
Though The New York Times had covered this story with scores of stories, the overall story had not been told in its dimensional entirety. Sontag said: “It was most gratifying to sink so deeply into a subject. If daily journalism is a rough draft of history, this was the revision.”