NEW YORK – New York is a city that forgets quickly. Teeming with ambition, its denizens are focused on getting ahead. And what’s striking today is how remote the disaster of September 11, 2001, now is for most New Yorkers.
Since the attack, the city has endured two dramatic economic cycles. More than other American cities, New York’s population is always churning. According to the City Department of Planning’s most recent estimates (from June 2009), the city attracted 647,000 immigrants over the last decade, mainly from Latin America and Asia.
For most new New Yorkers, the attack on the World Trade Center and the image of the gargantuan towers, which for a generation imposed itself over the lower Manhattan skyline, is something distant. That is difficult for those of us who lived here before the attacks to comprehend; but that psychological distance will become only more pronounced as time passes.
Prior to 9/11, the greatest disaster in the city’s history was the death of more than 1,000 people after the steamboat the General Slocum caught fire and sank in New York's East River on June 15, 1904. Most of the victims were German immigrants, mainly women and children, on their way to a picnic. They were members of a church that stands blocks from the apartment where I grew up. Like all of my neighborhood friends, however, I never heard about the General Slocum disaster when I was a child.