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September 11, Six Years On

September 11, 2007

Groundzero_18sep07_3 Today is the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the weather in NYC -- damp, cloudy -- somehow seems appropriate.

Millions of words have been written about that day and its aftermath and yet closure, for many of us, is as elusive as ever. It's interesting to me that, six years on, 60 percent of the people who voted in our most recent weekly poll answered "yes" to the question, "Did the attacks of September 11 change everything?" That was one of the thoughts that kept looping through my mind in the hours after I'd watched the towers crumble from the sidewalk in front of our building, and while my view of that day has become more nuanced, the emotions it triggered are still thisclose to the surface.

Memories of that day notwithstanding, there are reasons for hope. As New York Post editor Steve Cuozzo recently noted, "nowhere in the five boroughs, maybe not in the nation, is there a place [i.e., downtown Manhattan] where energy and optimism so tangibly fill the air." The population south of Chambers Street has almost doubled, from 22,961 to 44,700, since (pre-9/11) 2001; new businesses, restaurants, and hotels are popping up all over the neighborhood; and construction at the old WTC site is, at long last, kicking into gear. "Downtown today," writes Cuozzo (in his best tabloid-ese), "has something of the feel of London in the 1950s -- a great city still scarred by war, but pulling itself off the floor and putting its dukes up again."

As the Christian Science Monitor reported, Sept. 11 also has inspired the creation of dozens of charities and charitable efforts. One of them, myGoodDeed.org, is dedicated to turning 9/11 into a day of service, charity, and good deeds -- an idea that has been endorsed by members of Congress and President Bush. "It was the worst possible day imaginable, and in some ways, a remarkable day, too, in the way in which people responded," David Paine, co-founder of the organization, told the Monitor. "We need to rekindle the way we came together in the spirit of 9/11: It would be almost as much a tragedy to lose that lesson."

And what of philanthropy? What did it learn from 9/11 and its aftermath? We captured many of them in the interviews we conducted in 2001 and 2002 and subsequently published as September 11: Perspectives From the Field of Philanthropy and September 11: Perspectives From the Field of Philanthropy, Volume II. (Both volumes, as well as September 11: The Philanthropic Response, are available as free downloads on the Foundation Center's Web site.) Is philanthropy better prepared and organized to respond to another 9/11 than it was six years ago? Is it too willing to rely on the Red Cross and the Salvation Army as default first-responders in disaster situations? And have public expectations of what philanthropy can do outpaced its actual ability to respond? We'd like to hear what you think....

-- Mitch Nauffts

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