genConnect spoke with Robert Steel at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival. This portion of our conversation focuses on 9/11 and United States resiliency
KELLY HAYES: You’ve had a career that’s been involved in private enterprise. You’ve been with the U.S. Treasury, the federal government, and you’ve been involved in education. Now you are working with the City of New York in very trying times. Tell me a little bit about the economic development situation that is taking place in Manhattan.
ROBERT STEEL: Well I think that, let’s start at a high altitude, there’s no question all of the United States has gone through a pretty mean-spirited recession. That’s affected all 50 states and all 325 million people. New York, I think, amazingly, has actually done better than you might have guessed. On the day of Lehman Brothers failure, Mayor Bloomberg said that while they were trying times, that he felt as though he’d rather have New York’s hand of cards than anyone else’s.
I think most people might have thought that was bravado. Well it turns out it was prescient. That basically the economies recovered more quickly than we’d imagined. That basically our unemployment rate today, while still too high, is lower than the rest of the country. We’re creating an outsize proportion of new jobs. I think New York has the diversity and the vitality of the people, and the economy has led it to come back a bit more quickly than people expected. We still have more to do. Unemployment is too high and we need to get to people back to work.
KELLY HAYES: So you live in lower Manhattan and we’re approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11. How do you think New York has changed over the last 10 years?
ROBERT STEEL: Well and I work at City Hall, which is very, very close to the area of the World Trade Center. I think that all of us have changed and this is our generation’s equivalent of Pearl Harbor. And we’ll always remember where we were and each of us will process this in our own way. I think for New Yorkers that it’s a bit more personal and a bit more proximate. We’ve worked hard to think of the right way to memorialize this event.
Kelly, on the 10th anniversary this year we’ll open a memorial. On September 11th, all the families of those people who perished that day will be there at the memorial and they’ll do the last roll call. What they’ve been doing for the last nine years is calling the names of those who died and people have come together to hear the roll call. This year as they call the names, people will go on to the memorial and they’ll find the names of their loved ones there. This will be the last time that we do the reading of the names because now the names have been permanentized and put on to the memorial.
I think the interesting thing is that, again– it’s different than you might imagine –lower Manhattan has rebounded more quickly, that the population has almost doubled from that time, and it’s a vibrant and exciting part of New York. Again I think this just goes back to the resiliency of the city. And I think the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, and people are trying to always figure this out, this tragic event. But they’re moving forward and rebuilding the city.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
- Click here for our complete video interview with Robert Steel.
- Click here for exclusive video interviews with 9/11 key eyewitnesses, policy makers and thought leaders.
- For more daily expert updates, follow genConnect on Twitter and Facebook.
- To stay on top of expert’s latest posts on the site: Sign Up for genConnect.