September 11th is a bitter day in American History, but for Great Ecology the 11th also reminds us of where we began. Our Founder & President Dr. Mark Laska reflects on the day Great Ecology was founded, the day our world changed, and how far we've come:
Great Ecology was officially formed on September 10th, 2001, in downtown New York City. I remember the day well as we all do. Monday the 10th was a crisp fall day and Great Ecology had just become incorporated in the State of New York (at that time we were called Great Eastern Ecology). That evening, my wife Yael and I had a small group of friends who were helping to launch the new firm over for dinner at our upper west side apartment. After the dinner most folks headed back home, and I went to bed excited to have our first official day as a newly formed ecological consultancy. A stand-alone ecological restoration firm was a novel idea 20 years ago – very few existed, and we were the first in New York.
Tuesday September 11th, 2001, started out as a gorgeous day – the color of the sky was a deep blue and the weather was perfect. My wife had only found out that week she was pregnant with our first child. She had an appointment in midtown and headed out the door early to catch a subway for her meeting (subways later stopped running and she had to walk back later). I was home and got an early call that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I was planning on meeting my cousin for lunch that day at the Winter Garden – immediately next to the Towers – where he worked as a trader. When I heard about the plane, like many people I initially assumed it was a small deal and might affect my lunch plans. I turned on the TV to see the story just in time to see the second plane hit the Towers. We were only a few miles away from lower Manhattan, but the news had the clearest picture of the chaos we experienced.
We had four good friends who worked in the WTC that day – but fortunately only one of them, Jon, was in the building when the plane hit. He was on the 41st floor of the second building and immediately walked down to the ground where he emerged from a tunnel to find an airplane engine and many other unpleasant sites. It later turned out that those poor souls above the 77th floor likely didn’t survive and most below that level did.
My brother-in-law came over to our apartment and like most Americans we watched the towers collapse live on TV and then we could see the smoke rise out our windows. We were horrified by the attack on the Pentagon and what we later learned was pure bravery for the heros on Flight 93. For hours afterwards we watched a parade of people walk up Broadway on their way back home and out of the city as no trains or buses were running and no cars could get into Manhattan. I remember our friend Ora who worked as a doctor in a downtown emergency room describing how they set up a triage, but no patients ever came. The days and weeks ahead were surreal – no planes flew in US airspace for the first week and police armed with machine guns patrolled the streets. I will never forget the thousands of signs posted throughout the City for missing people. One of my future business partners lost his sister in the attacks. I knew 4 people who died that day including a childhood friend. While Americans felt it was an assault on the Country, New Yorkers felt it as a personal attack.
And yet from those dark tragic days, Great Ecology was born. From the end of the Giuliani era to Michael Bloomberg’s 3 terms as mayor, New York was on a mission to re-build. And Great Ecology contributed to the ecological design of over 50 parks in New York City working with some of the worlds best landscape architects, planners and designers. We changed our name and expanded our footprint. Eventually we opened offices in San Diego and Denver, without ever losing sight of our roots in lower Manhattan.
Today on our 20th anniversary we celebrate over 1000 projects completed in almost 35 states and several countries. My eldest daughter, now 19 years old, is a college sophomore and we had three more daughters after Gali. The beautiful reflecting pools at ground zero remind us of that tragic day, but also how far we as a nation and a company have come. Since that time, our firm has restored thousands of acres of wetlands, hundreds of acres of forest, brought back dozens of miles of streams, and designed ecological areas in public spaces visited annually by tens of millions of people. We have been fortunate to support habitat restoration following other tragedies such as the Deep Water Horizon Accident, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. As we enter our 21st year in business, Great Ecology keeps its eyes on the horizon but with a firm foot in the past.
I am grateful to our many clients and project partners without whom we would have no business. I am highly appreciative of the several hundred people who have worked at Great Ecology over the years, contributing their talent, energy and enthusiasm. But mostly I am thankful our families have allowed us to pursue this passion of Great Ecology. Here’s to another 20 years!