Elizabeth Berger (Photo by Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times)
Liz Berger was a Downtown Girl.
As an undergraduate at Yale University, she created her own major – Study of the City – and later parlayed her intelligence, sophistication and drive into transforming what some saw as a dreary part of Manhattan into a vibrant and viable “village.”
“What I love about Lower Manhattan is that it has the biggest buildings on the smallest streets,” she once told The New York Times. “It’s an internationally known destination but it’s a little village.”
She not only focused her professional energy on making that part of town sustainable but also resided there in the Financial District with her husband, writer Frederick Kaufman, and their two children.
Elizabeth Berger, civic leader and creative force for rebuilding Lower Manhattan after 9/11, died from pancreatic cancer Aug. 5 in New York just after turning 53. Her legacy included her vision for rebuilding Lower Manhattan not just after 9/11 but also, more recently, after Hurricane Sandy.
“Liz Berger loved our City with passion and gave her great intelligence and inventiveness to New York without reserve,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement following her death. “She was more than an advocate for Lower Manhattan, she was a partner in building its future. As new transit hubs, skyscrapers, full access to our waterfront and a fresh vitality emerge downtown, Liz's influences are everywhere to be seen.”
Berger served as president of the Alliance for Downtown New York and of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association. Among the many projects she successfully championed were:
• Completion of the Fulton Street Transit Center
• Reconstruction of Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College, damaged on 9/11
• Enactment of post 9/11 commercial leasing incentives
• Establishment of the Re:Construction public art program that turned construction sites into large scale canvases for public art
• Expansion of free downtown bus and wi-fi service, and establishment of the Hive at 55, a facility for freelancers and entrepreneurs
Berger also was involved with the Municipal Art Society, Film Forum, Second Stage Theatre, American Museum of Natural History, Planetarium Authority, the Trust for Governors Island, and the New York Building Congress.
In a 2010 interview with Michael Stoler , Berger was asked about wearing so many hats and serving on so many boards. “Why else live in New York?” she responded. “New York is a place where you can mix it up.”
Berger was born in New York in 1960. She built government relations practices with two major law firms and worked for Mayor Koch as a representative to the New York City Council.
“Liz Berger’s passion, sophistication and drive shaped Lower Manhattan as surely as any skyscraper or bull dozer,” Robert Douglas, chairman of the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, said in a statement.
“She was a fighter,” William Rudin, president of Rudin Management and chairman of the Association for a Better New York, told Crain’s New York . “She fought her illness for many years and that same tenacity was evident in her work and focus on downtown.”
Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."