There might be people who love Lower Manhattan as much as Liz Berger did, but we doubt anyone loved it more. Berger had an enthusiasm for Downtown that was infectious, and her dedication to our community made it a better place to live and work. Like many others, we were saddened to learn of her death from cancer last week at the far too young age of 53.
Berger was the president of the Downtown Alliance business improvement district for the last six years. She had been a Community Board 1 member prior to that, and also served the city in many other capacities over the years. A hard-working woman of great intelligence, she and her work live on in the many people she led, touched or inspired to do more for our neighborhood and for the world.
Last fall after Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of our community, the Alliance BID, led by Berger, rushed in with help to small businesses, a mere three weeks after the storm hit, and long before any other financial help came.
She had so many great ideas or projects she championed. One of our favorites is “Re:Construction.” It typifies what we admired most about Berger, her ability to take a negative — Lower Manhattan’s ubiquitous construction sheds and scaffolding post-9/11 — and make something better of it: namely, art to hide the eyesores so as to brighten the day for hundreds of thousands of workers and residents.
Her accomplishments are particularly remarkable considering her 10-year battle against pancreatic cancer. We are also grateful to another leader in the community, Madelyn Wils, for sharing her insights into her friend Lizzie’s inspiring attitude in the face of death — making every moment count for her husband and children, her friends and for Lower Manhattan.
We offer our condolences to her family and friends.
Berger was not the first to move to the Financial District, but she came Downtown a decade or two before most residents and long before it was called “FiDi.” She was often writing and commenting in our sister paper, Downtown Express, about important developments, and we close with some of her words from columns she wrote in 2010:
“I moved to Lower Manhattan almost three decades ago. It was the frontier, and only my banker friends knew how to get here, but I loved living Downtown. Fred [her husband] followed the next year. It was an adventure. We loved living off the (street) grid, the huge buildings on the tiny streets, being close to the water and, back in the day when walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was a novel experience, knowing in some powerful, visceral way that Manhattan was an island. We loved the views, how all the subway and bus lines came together and the feeling that we were at the center and beginning of everything… .
“The happy truth is that Lower Manhattan, home to some of the world’s biggest businesses and tallest buildings, is also a little village, a place where neighbors know each other, shopkeepers wave and everyone gets together on the ball fields.”
Alas, our village has lost one of its pioneers and genuine and true leading members in Liz Berger.