Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on September 11th, 2001? I can still remember quite vividly that day even though it was 15 years ago. I had just arrived at my office when the building manager said in passing, “Isn’t it terrible what happened in New York City?” I had no idea what he was talking about until I turned on the computer at my desk and shockingly found out online that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Feeling overwhelmed, I did not get much work done that day. Instead, I was busy trying to keep up with the latest updates on news websites like CNN, ABC, and BBC, and was worried that similar terrorist attacks were forthcoming in Los Angeles. As it turned out, L.A. was not targeted that day (although three of the four planes were originally bound for LAX before being commandeered by the hijackers). Also, I did not personally know any of the victims who were killed or injured as a result of the attacks. Nevertheless, the tragic events of 9/11 certainly affected me in a number of ways.
Back in 2001, I was working as a planner at a private consulting firm that provided planning and environmental services to cities across California. Even though I enjoyed the work for the most part and was learning a great deal, I often felt disconnected from the communities and residents that I was preparing land use or housing plans for. Much of the work was done from the comfort of my office in Pasadena and my so called “interactions” with community members were limited to the few meetings and workshops that were held to solicit public input and/or present the plans and their recommendations.
The events of 9/11 prompted me to intensify my search for a position in the government which would allow me to more directly serve the public. I know this strong urge or desire to serve was not unique to me as I have read and heard of numerous stories in which men and women made the courageous and noble decisions to join the military, police, fire, and other-related professions. Unfortunately, I lacked the aptitude, skills, and physical fitness/abilities to join the military, police, or fire services. However, I knew that I could still serve in other ways and contribute to the betterment of our communities. I had originally wanted to secure a civilian community planner position with branches/units of the military like the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), but was unsuccessful. Fortunately, the door later opened in 2003 for me to enter the civil service as a planner with the County of Los Angeles. I am pleased and proud to say that I have now been a County planner for over 13 years, and have had many more opportunities to interact with and serve the public than I had as a consultant.
Seeing the devastation and destruction of the Twin Towers and the surrounding structures also impacted my psyche as a planner. I grew up loving big cities, and enjoyed the vibrancy and excitement of being in urban environments. Even though I had not been to Lower Manhattan at that time, I still felt as though my way of life and my love for cities suffered a big blow on that fateful day. When I finally had a chance to go to New York City in May 2011 just months before the tenth anniversary, I made sure to visit the WTC site and spent some time there to pay my respect to those who so tragically lost their lives. I will forever be humbled and inspired by the first responders and others who acted heroically and sacrificially to save and help others amidst the chaos, confusion, and challenges they faced that day.
May we never forget the events of 9/11 and those who perished. However, instead of focusing only on the evil or heinous acts of the day, I hope that we can also be positively motivated to carry out more acts of goodness and kindness, serve others in greater ways, and do our parts to improve our communities as both citizens and planners.
Graphic credit: World Trade Center debris impact areas created by Therese McAllister, Jonathan Barnett, John Gross, Ronald Hamburger, Jon Magnuson of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_Trade_Center,_NY_-_2001-09-11_-_Debris_Impact_Areas.svg
Photos of memorial by author during visit to New York City in May 2011.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect the official views or positions of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.