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City works around a hole in the skyline

My first memory of Manhattan was wrapped around the vision of a skyscraper. New York City was the place of tall buildings, just as San Diego Harbor was always thought of as tall ships. Last week was my second glimpse at the "hole in the skyline of New York City." I can imagine the ache in someone's memory; nothing has replaced the twin towers of the World Trade Center, not yet even a vision.

Ground zero was invented by terror less than 245 days ago. Now it is almost a holy site where 700 workers still toil daily, with some 1.5 million tons of debris having been removed and sifted for human remains still being discovered through tenderness and devotion. Real estate no more; now a holy memorial. How does one calculate return on love?

In New York I am energized by sights and sounds and the come-to-life demographics of a global society, seeming to scurry in all directions. It is a place of velocity, not laziness. Maybe that's why it's known for its rudeness, for nothing promotes impatience more than being in a hurry, or haven't you noticed our drivers?

I do what I always do when in the city, walk until my soles cried with soreness. New York City is the microcosm of all society, a city of countries, a culture of cultures where anthropology evolves within millions of lives. I visit pocket parks and larger. People use this city, for it was created for people -- not skyscrapers.

The parks next to City Hall and the main library are two of my favorites. In the afternoon they are a shapeless mass of tables and chairs as humans crave the sun and moments of contemplation mixed with conversation. I witness the lifeline between horrific event and memory.

I wander among strangers, posing questions and thoughts to them. Friends were found and friendships formed, for memory is the glue linking life and tragedy. To some 9/11 is a never-ending tragedy, for "we were all there, even if not here." The connectivity is like the memory of where you were when JFK was shot. There is a certain searing of brain with memory still not comprehended. "We have different values that cannot understand what happened and why."

As David Dunlap wrote in The New York Times: "The skyline has been robbed of something important, maybe even necessary." And what to replace it? The meetings, conferences and thoughts have not yet drawn conclusions --except that it should be a memorial and it should be high and very visible, with some commercial structure included.

Newspapers constantly feature stories that are like fairy tales, but true: New heroes are invited to address graduations; former Mayor Giuliani received 25 invitations to speak, each one precious and not to be missed. What does a leader/speaker say? Are there any new thoughts or will repetition ensure memory, though not return loss to life. The former Fire Commissioner reminds graduation listeners how the heroic fire chaplain died on that sad day, and whose dress hat and gloves would be on an empty seat at graduation. Sadness strolls with pride.

Heroes are by-products of the unexpected, when courage rises from mortals who act with no inhibitions of personal safety.

The real estate market attempts to return to normal, with millions of square feet subtracted from supply and new back-office buildings now serving as front offices. Timing and location prove their rules again. Tragedy, innovation and discovery were all linked by Madam Fate at this place -- forming this place. At my real estate meetings, the conversations always turned to "what now," with impossible insurance premiums (if available at all) and liabilities which no one ever thought could happen.

As my plane took off, I looked back at what was missing and what remained: Two great towers and one great place, meshed together in history, forever.

Goodkin, who was born in New Jersey just 16 miles from Ground Zero, is an international real estate adviser and strategist, and a housing analyst since 1956. He can be reached at sandy.goodkin@sddt.com.

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