Thursday, March 27, 2008

New York’s West Side Railyard Development

We are not the only ones having trouble with these projects.

March 27, 2008
Profit and Public Good Clash in Grand Plans

The bitter battles over reconstruction plans for ground zero. The unraveling of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. And now this.

Given current economic realities, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s selection on Wednesday of a team led by Tishman Speyer to develop the West Side railyards seems like a wishful fantasy. Yet even if the project takes decades to realize, it is a damning indictment of large-scale development in New York.

Like the ground zero and Atlantic Yards fiascos, its overblown scale and reliance on tired urban planning formulas should force a serious reappraisal of the public-private partnerships that shape development in the city today. And in many ways the West Side railyards is the most disturbing of the three. Because of its size and location — 12.4 million square feet on 26 acres in Midtown — it will have the most impact on the city’s identity. Yet unlike the other two developments, it lacks even the pretense of architectural ambition.

On the contrary, as a money-making venture conceived by a cash-starved transit authority, it signals a level of cynicism that should prod us to demand a moratorium on all such development until our public officials return to their senses.

Dollar signs first appeared in the eyes of authority officials when the city unfurled its misguided vision of playing host to the 2012 Olympics. That plan would have involved building a football stadium for the New York Jets on the western part of the railyards. (The stadium plan was mercifully abandoned in 2005 after it failed to receive state support.)

The current proposal essentially takes off where that earlier plan left off by championing profit over the public good. Rising on a vast platform to be built over the train tracks, the project is conceived as a series of soaring corporate and residential towers flanking the northern and southern ends of a narrow park running from 10th Avenue to the West Side Highway, between 30th and 33rd Streets. City officials say the deal will generate $1 billion in income over a 99-year lease.