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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT