March 11, 2003
Midtown's Final Frontier
Forty years isn't very long in the life of a city, but it's long enough to reinvent an entire district. So the Bloomberg administration hopes. Recently city officials, including Amanda Burden, head of the City Planning Commission, and a deputy mayor, Daniel L. Doctoroff, unveiled the Hudson Yards Master Plan, the city's vision for the redevelopment of Midtown West. Merely to walk out of the Javits Convention Center into the low dark streets that surround it is to understand why this section of the city, between 28th and 42nd Streets west of Eighth Avenue, is regarded as the last frontier in middle Manhattan.
No subways serve Hudson Yards. As the name suggests, much of the area is taken up by rail yards, parking lots and warehouses. The core of the Hudson Yards Master Plan is to extend and connect the transportation links that run nearby. This means, especially, an extension of the No. 7 subway line into the heart of the district. By itself, that would prompt a lot of development. But to their credit, city planners want to guide growth so the district becomes a coherent neighborhood, shaped by new streets, new open spaces and new public buildings.
Much of this plan makes sense. The Javits Center would expand northward and add a hotel that would give it access to 42nd Street. There would be serious efforts to bring the waterfront into play. On the other hand, the city's plan to create a double row of skyscrapers flanking 11th Avenue unfortunately recalls the street-level dreariness of the Avenue of the Americas in Midtown.
But for now, the big question is the "multi-use facility," which still amounts to a stadium, possibly for the Olympics and certainly for the Jets. Officials have said that the Hudson Yards plan does not depend on the stadium, but they also argue that the logic of the redevelopment design makes much less sense without it. Its feasibility will clearly depend on two things, a financing plan that does not depend on public money and a way of making "multi-use" more than a euphemism. No one wants a publicly financed hulk that sits empty most of the time and floods the city with traffic when it is being used.
The plan will have to compete with the city's other big redevelopment program, the plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site. There is not enough money now to move ahead on both fronts, and there is just as obviously a pressing emotional and civic need to make sure that ground zero comes first. Phasing is a word we are all going to learn the nuances of in the next few years. One of the virtues of the Hudson Yards Master Plan is that its phasing takes us all the way to 2040.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company