The National September 11 Memorial officially opens Sept. 12, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the design is "perfect," in part because architect Michael Arad's vision "leaves it up to the mind to tell a story."New York City will welcome visitors back to the World Trade Center site to reflect, commemorate, and cherish the memory of the nearly 3,000 people who died at the hands of terrorists in Manhattan, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The site also will be dedicated to those who were killed in the 1993 WTC bombing. Construction on the $700 million memorial began in 2006.
Bloomberg, memorial chairperson and mayor since Jan. 1, 2002, sat down with Yahoo! and shared his thoughts on the opening of the memorial. He also talked about how New York has changed in the past 10 years.
Bloomberg was personally touched by the 9/11 attacks. Three of the 2,983 names engraved on the memorial’s bronze panels were employees of Bloomberg L.P., the media company Bloomberg founded in 1981.
The three men died on the 102nd floor of one of the twin towers as they were setting up audio-visual equipment for a speech to be given that morning by another Bloomberg colleague.
"I took the day and talked with their families," says Bloomberg, who was CEO of Bloomberg LP at the time. "No one knew if anyone was alive or not."
Bloomberg attended memorial services for the employees and says he remains in close contact with the families.
Bloomberg has been an instrumental force behind the memorial project. He has raised money, supervised construction, and helped finalize numerous structural details.
Occupying half of the 16-acre WTC site, the memorial consists of two reflecting pools, each nearly one acre in size, and two 30-foot waterfalls -- the largest constructed waterfalls in North America -- that cascade down four walls into a square void. The pools and waterfalls sit in the footprints of the twin towers and are flanked by more than 400 swamp white oak trees. The Memorial Museum, a cavernous space located 70 feet below ground, opens to the public next year.
[ Related: Behind-the-scenes look at the memorial ]
Bloomberg says the September 11 Memorial & Museum will make the World Trade Center site "stronger than ever," and he believes the site will attract visitors for generations to come.
The destruction of the WTC temporarily paralyzed Lower Manhattan as local businesses were forced to either close or relocate, but the area has again become a center of commerce and entertainment as more people continue to move there.
An estimated 9 million people visited the area in 2010, a 26% increase from 2008, and Lower Manhattan's population has more than doubled since Sept. 11, 2001, to 56,000 in 2011, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York, a group that promotes development in Lower Manhattan. Downtown New York has become a "very desirable place to live, to go to work, to go to school, to relax, to get an education," Bloomberg says.
One of the most important lessons gleaned from 9/11 is that "our freedoms are fragile ... and we're constantly going to have to fight for them," the mayor says. "Fighting doesn't just mean fighting overseas and fighting terrorists, but fighting against intolerance as well."
This struggle against intolerance was challenged in the past year when a group submitted a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center near the WTC site, sparking outrage from some government leaders and many Americans. Bloomberg, a defender of religious rights and freedoms, advocated tolerance of the group's efforts. He said the privileges we fight for every day must be upheld, regardless of the circumstances or individuals involved. Bloomberg relays the story of an American soldier who approached him in a restaurant more than a year ago. The soldier told him, "I just want to let you know that I had a lot of friends who I fought with, and some of them did not come back. The reason they went over there to fight is so those people could build their mosque. Keep up the good work."
Video Produced by Morgan Korn, Associate Producer Anne Lilburn. Interview by Anna Robertson. Production by WIlliam Cassara and Joe Savastano, Edited by Matt Weglian, Post-production Audio by James Kelly and Graphics by Howard Kim for Yahoo! Studios.
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