Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The Freedom Tower, rising from ashes

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon April 30, 2012
One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, dominates the Lower Manhattan skyline.
One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, dominates the Lower Manhattan skyline.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Freedom Tower is a tribute to resilience and ability to come back better than before
  • Lower Manhattan is growing fast, he says, and streets once covered in ash are full of life
  • Avlon says tower shows that we will build where others have destroyed, and we will endure

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns."

(CNN) -- The World Trade Center is again the tallest building in New York one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden and more than 10 years after the attacks that brought them down.

It is still a work in progress: The hulking steel structure known as the Freedom Tower is still 500 feet shorter than it will be when complete.  But it is already a tribute to American resilience, a reminder that whatever devastation we face, we can still come back bigger and better than before.

My wife and I live two blocks from ground zero. The transformation of our neighborhood over the past decade has been inspiring, if comparatively unheralded. The streets that were once covered in ash and smoke are now teeming with life. 

Lower Manhattan is the fastest-growing residential neighborhood in New York, with young families choosing to move into what had been a ghost town after dark for much of the past century. Businesses are relocating to Lower Manhattan as well, including many future tenants flocking to the Freedom Tower. Where George Washington took the oath of office, at Federal Hall, is again a vibrant crossroads at all hours.

Destruction is easy. Any determined idiot can do it. Building is hard work but infinitely more interesting. It is an expression of faith in the future. 

We have been down a long road since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And too often, the daily work of rebuilding does not get its due. But it is the main event, evidence of how we honor the past while moving on with life. 

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion

John P. Avlon
John P. Avlon

This past weekend, I was in New Orleans, a city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina just seven years ago. But its heart never stopped beating, and the love it inspires as an American treasure -- "like one long poem," as Bob Dylan once wrote -- is stronger than ever. 

Bruce Springsteen closed out the first weekend of Jazzfest, and in the afternoon sunlight, he played "The Rising," his post-9/11 anthem of resilience and rebuilding.  As he started to sing, a woman near me started crying. I don't know the details of whom she lost that day, but it was a reminder of how the shadow of the past is never very far away. By the end of the song, comforted by her friends, she was again smiling through teary eyes and swaying to the music. 

The Rising is real, and we are living it. It is a tribute to all who we have lost and all that we have been through. Most of all, it is the result of hard work. Yes, there have been mistakes and missteps along the way. Some would say with justification that this Freedom Tower milestone has been too long in coming, bogged down in red tape.  But the path is less important than the destination. It is a towering act of defiance, reaching into the sky as evidence of our refusal to live in fear. 

The Freedom Tower and the neighborhood springing up around it are testimonials to our continued commitment to an idea embodied by the firefighters who died there on 9/11: We have met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity. Where others have destroyed, we will build. And we will endure. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT