North America: The Big Apple

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North America: The Big Apple

The concept of Manifest Destiny is a central thread of the American historical narrative. Initially it referred to the westward sweep of colonisation from the country’s founding settlements on the east coast of the continent. But, more broadly, the notion of boundless expansion is still witnessed in the US today and few places better exemplify this than New York City.

Any visitor to this destination, particularly Manhattan, can’t fail to be impressed by the world’s most imposing skyline, and I am no exception. Looking around, the streets buzz with activity. The human traffic and ambient noise rivals the vehicle gridlock and the wail of sirens. The skyscrapers of the vast financial district speak of a place where commerce is king. It is unquestionably a visionary and industrious people who built this stunning metropolis.

But in a few indelible hours on the morning of September 11, 2001 the millennium’s most shocking and unforgettable events struck at the very heart of this city. Two hijacked passenger aircraft slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan. A total of 2753 people lost their lives following the collapse of both buildings, while two other hijacked aircraft, one of which hit the Pentagon, brought the total death toll to just under 3000.

These tragic events shocked the US and the world, ushering in a grim new reality concerning the potency and reach of terrorism.

But the indomitable American spirit was quick to reveal itself. As the dust was settling on the same day, then President George W Bush spoke of the attacks shattering steel, but affirmed they would not dent the steel of American resolve.

In the years that have followed, the site of the World Trade Center has evolved as the massive clean up endeavour is replaced by rebuilding and regenerative efforts.

After a lengthy tendering process lasting several years it was decided that the centrepiece of the new World Trade Center site would be the 1 World Trade Center building. Foundations were laid in April 2006 and the building is scheduled for completion in 2013, whereupon it will be the tallest building in the US, standing 541 metres tall. Poignantly, its height is equal to 1776 feet, symbolically representing the year of American independence.

Nearby, where the footprints of the original twin towers remain, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum will stand, due to be completed for the 10th anniversary on September 11 this year. Two memorial pools surrounded by a forest of trees will define the site of remembrance.

At the time of our visit both sites are under construction. We are left to marvel at the feats of renewal from close by but are privy to contents of the adjacent Ground Zero Museum and Workshop. Here we solemnly examine photo galleries that document the lives of those who lived through and perished in the attacks. At times grim and heart rending, it brings a sense of immediacy to visitors like us, nearly 10 years later.

Of course, New York has many other monuments to progress and storied American ideals, and we make it our business to take them in.

Impressive construction feats of the late 19th Century, when modern building technology was in its infancy, are best experienced by walking the span of the Brooklyn Bridge and visiting Liberty Island.

The former structure spans 500 metres across the East River, travelling from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and is praiseworthy even by modern standards. The latter, a colossus of world renown, is perhaps even more remarkable. To get there we journey via subway down to Manhattan’s southern extremity at Battery Park, where the mid-December wind whipping off Upper Bay has an Arctic chill.

Mercifully the Statue Cruises line is short and before too long we are joining scores of other grateful folks inside the warm confines of a ferry bound for Liberty Island.

The torch bearing lady is shorter and greener than I expect, standing 46 metres from her feet to the tip of the torch — if you include her pedestal she reaches 93 metres tall. Despite her exterior being copper plate her familiar green hue is attributable to her metallic coat reacting with the air.

Since the statue’s dedication on October 28, 1886 many buildings in New York have outgrown it, yet its towering symbolism has stood the test of time. Her cultural impact on the city that never sleeps cannot be underestimated.

But in a little over a month all eyes will once again turn back to the World Trade Center site where the innocents who lost their lives will be given a most fitting memorial.