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20 Years Later, Remembering and Reflecting

Connie Fishman, Hudson River Park Friends Executive Director and Hudson River Park Trust Executive Vice President at the time of the attacks, shares a reflection on the Park’s role in the aftermath of 9/11.

Twenty years ago Hudson River Park was in its infancy. Many who enjoy its beautiful open spaces and recreational amenities were not yet born. But the Park played a critical role in the aftermath of and recovery from the 9/11 attacks—just as it has during the pandemic.

On September 11, 2001, the paint separating the north and southbound lanes on the Hudson River bikeway was just drying, and Hudson River Park Trust had recently hired construction contractors for the Greenwich Village piers and designers for the remainder of the Park. Then the towers fell.

With Downtown shut down, the Park administration quickly moved from its construction trailers next to the Battery Park City ballfield up to Pier 40. The pier construction team that was beginning its work on Pier 45 was redeployed to just south of Pier 25 to help remove large pieces of debris from the fallen buildings and barge them to Staten Island. The Park’s legal and environmental staff secured emergency permits to dredge the water in order to receive the tugboats and barges.

Pier 40 and the bikeway became part of the logistics for breaking down large deliveries of supplies and donated goods and taking them down to the clean-up site, facilitated by the Park’s staff in golf carts when only emergency vehicles were allowed on the highway. Suddenly Hudson River Park found itself in the middle of everything.

Much like today, uncertainty about the future was pervasive. Would there be more attacks? Would there be a war? Would things ever return to normal? Should we keep building the Park? Despite the lack of answers, about three weeks after the attacks, we met with the Park design teams, who had all been put on hold, and told them to keep going: we still had funding and, more than ever, the community needed something positive to look forward to. The pier builders returned to Greenwich Village with a new crew and began constructing Piers 45, 46 and 51, which two years later would transform the Village waterfront into a new riverside green space for millions of Park users from around the world. Later, 9/11 funding would help create the beautiful Tribeca piers and parklands and help revitalize Downtown New York with support from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Today Hudson River Park is finally nearing completion, with just two more piers and a few stretches of esplanade left to be completed in the next couple of years. We’re proud of the role that the Park played in New York’s recovery twenty years ago, just as we’re proud of the way it is helping New Yorkers during Covid. There are many sad things we recall about that day and the weeks that followed on this day of remembrance; those are memories that do not fade. We honor those who lost their lives and those who sacrificed their health to help the City recover.

Now we have 20 years of new memories made in Hudson River Park, where a generation of children has grown up enjoying this blue and green oasis along the mighty Hudson River.