By Susan Armitage
On the morning of 9/11, Liz Berger had just dropped off her oldest child for kindergarten at P.S. 234 and was on her way to work. Though she had already been active in civic life, she said, that devastating day reaffirmed her dedication to the community she loves.
“My first thought was about all we had done in the past 20 years and how it had been destroyed in 18 minutes,” said Berger, a native New Yorker who has lived south of Fulton Street for three decades and now heads the nonprofit Alliance for Downtown New York.
Berger served on the local Community Board at the time, but says 9/11 motivated her to deepen her involvement and take on new formal roles. She was honored to be asked to represent residents at the Senate Field Hearing.
“I think what you realize in those kind of crises is that your troubles and problems are really everybody’s,” Berger said. “And what that does is make them more urgent, rather than less urgent.”
In 2007, she became president of the Downtown Alliance, which manages the Business Improvement District for Lower Manhattan, after decades of work in government, community affairs and strategic planning.
Berger says the organization plays a key role in convening constituents to understand their needs. Through research, service, information and advocacy, the Downtown Alliance aims to make Lower Manhattan a better place to live, work and visit.
“Liz’s leadership is tremendous,” said Peter Poulakakos, a restaurateur and member of the Downtown Alliance board. “She inspires the board, she inspires the community. She’s got a great energy.”
Berger, whose commute to the office is a handy two blocks, loves living in what she calls a “complete community.”
“It’s a little village with probably the best-known business address in the world,” she said. “It’s that combination of knowing your neighbors and having unbelievable choices.”
She loves the parts of Lower Manhattan that evoke history, like Front Street, Stone Street and the city’s oldest park, Bowling Green. But the neighborhood, Berger said, “is about the past and the future, all together.”
Under her leadership, the Downtown Alliance is charting a forward-looking course. The organization has expanded its social media outreach to better connect with constituents, and the Downtown NYC free mobile app provides tips on places to visit and things to do in Lower Manhattan. The organization also anticipates new initiatives related to Lower Manhattan’s growing tech industry.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Downtown Alliance also recently announced a new grant program to help affected small businesses in the Zone A areas of Lower Manhattan. While some suffered physical damage, Berger said, the bigger issue is a decline in foot traffic while some commercial and residential buildings undergo repairs.
“This is about Lower Manhattan big business supporting Lower Manhattan small business,” she said.
“It’s about business-to-business self-help. That’s really what our organization is about, and it’s a very important element of building this community.”
In addition to her role at the Downtown Alliance, Berger holds a myriad of other community positions. She is president of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and serves on the boards of the Municipal Art Society, Film Forum, Second Stage Theatre, American Museum of Natural History Planetarium Authority, the New York Building Congress and the Trust for Governors Island.
Berger simply says she likes to be busy. “That’s why you live in a city; because you want to participate in public life and do what you can to support the institutions that make urban life worth living,” she said.
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