Saturday, September 3, 2011

New York City is Booming Again

Daily Mail: New York is an iron lady. She's survived the darkest of times, picked herself up, started again, and again.

There have been crises over the years - and some terrifying weather recently - but one catastrophe hurt more than any other. Next Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the terrorist attack that killed almost 3,000, devastated downtown Manhattan and shook the world.

Two weeks before those planes struck, I'd been in the World Trade Centre plaza with my family, enjoying a free concert in the sunshine.

Ten years on, I'm there again, because it's impossible to come to New York without paying your respects to Ground Zero. The site roars with life. Four towers are on the go, with a team of more than 1,000 - deeply proud - workers on the job. The Freedom Tower is going up by four stories a week and the Memorial Museum is set for completion in 2012.

Next week, the 9/11 Memorial will be opened by the Obamas. Five million people are expected annually. Visitors will have to navigate cranes, trucks and building paraphernalia, but once inside the eight-acre site they will find a peaceful space in which to sit and think.

It will be planted with 400 oak trees, including the Survivor Tree - a Callery pear - which was salvaged from the wreckage and nurtured back to life in the Bronx. Enormous pools will run with 52,000 gallons of water. These great voids sit in the footprint of the towers and take up 85 per cent of the original area. The names of the victims are engraved around the edge.

The Freedom Tower - officially named One World Trade Center - at 104 stories will reach higher than the original towers. It's encased with glass - not unlike London's Shard. Glinting in the sunlight, it is undoubtedly a hope-filled spectacle, a rebuke to those who wrought such destruction ten years ago. Condé Nast recently signed a deal for office space inside - quite a move for Vogue's uptown girls.

But downtown is moving on - and up. Several new hotels have opened, including W Downtown. It's slick and business-like with knowledgeable staff and a relaxed approach. Peering into the memorial site from your bedroom window will not be for everyone, though at night the balcony bar will have quite a view of the lamp-lit trees and pools. From here, Battery Park is a five-minute walk and you can follow the Hudson to the far north tip of Manhattan. Whether your bent is for mini-golf, basketball, lounging or running, this is a lovely spot for it.

The Statue of Liberty sits across the water, looking small on the horizon. Brooklyn Bridge is nearby, too, and the views from it across the city, whether you're looking into the crowded projects or down the East River, do something to take your mind off the rumbling traffic and stifling fumes.

Romance is in the air on the High Line, an elevated public park on what used to be a freight railroad through the Meatpacking District. On a sunny evening, it's a pretty place for a stroll - and, it seems, a date. There aren't many places in New York where you can sit beside dreamy meadow grasses overlooking rooftops and New Jersey, after all. There are art exhibitions, concerts and live music, too. The city's myriad entrepreneurs have been quick to tap into the High Line's holiday spirit - and it's an imaginative stretch.

Working hours are notoriously long here - but cocktail hour is sacred and New Yorkers don't mess about. The bars quickly buzz. Friends who live in the city tell me they never tire of going out because there is always something new to see and eating out well is far cheaper than in London. No one stays in.

Peels, in the Bowery District, does everything on a biscuit - a buttery sort of scone - in a pantry kitchen setting. Mr Chow, in Tribeca, serves chillingly delicious Martinis and Le Zie, in Chelsea, is an unassuming, but utterly delicious, Italian restaurant. Uptown still reverberates with old wealth and Tom Wolfe's infamous Wasps. The Carlyle hotel - Princess Diana's favourite place to stay in Manhattan - perches elegantly on Madison Avenue and is still every inch the well-groomed hostess.

Things are done properly here. There's a uniformed concierge to take you up and down in the lift, and when the rain throws down I am handed a voluminous umbrella for the evening. I could do with a pair of wellies.

The Carlyle is discreet, dark (there's a lot of black marble), plush and pampering (the spa works wonders on a scrunched back). The hotel was allegedly the scene of clandestine meetings between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe - and no wonder. The lighting is artful, the atmosphere sumptuous. Woody Allen still plays jazz clarinet in the Café Carlyle. This is a place to stay in with someone special. But you should venture out. New York's numerous galleries, museums and the capacious - and hilly - Central Park are all on your doorstep.

The pulse of New York is such that when I return home, Central London seems soothing, laidback, quiet.

Throw yourself in. Or as Colum McCann, in Let The Great World Spin, puts it: 'One of the beauties of New York is that you can be from anywhere and within moments of landing it is yours.' This is an energetic place - and now is an exciting time to go. There's huge pride in what has been achieved at Ground Zero and there's plenty more to come.

Obama's presidency might be in the doldrums, but his election slogan still rings true in this extraordinary city. Yes We Can.

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