Battle of the Skyscrapers
Last night, nearly 500 New Yorkers gathered at the New York Public Library’s main branch for a forum on the wave of skyscrapers that are rising along the Southern edge of Central Park. Skyscrapers that will, depending on whom you ask, either transform Central Park into a gloomy airshaft or create shadows as fleeting and insubstantial as a cloud moving across the sun. Concerns were raised, grievances aired and oligarchs denigrated. Politicians vowed to defend the public good, the community’s benefit was invoked repeatedly, and Gary Barnett briefly managed to distract everyone from the matter at hand by dissing the Midtown East rezoning. All of which is to say it was a cathartic, and at times entertaining evening, but in the end a futile one. For the sunlight-blocking skyscrapers being debated are, at this point, essentially, fait accompli.
Despite all the romantic blubbering to the contrary, the view from the top of the Empire State isn’t priceless; it’s worth $60 million a year. The enviable sum that the observation deck brings in, long speculated over, set other developers’ hearts aflutter when it was recently revealed as part of the building’s IPO proceedings. And now more and more of them are rushing to get into the observation deck business, according to Crain’s. If you’re going to build castles in the sky, why not get as much as you possibly can for the views?
Best Laid Plans
“You can tell the building is rocking back and forth because you can see the pocket doors hitting the wall,” said Eric Williams, a computer engineer waiting out Hurricane Sandy in his apartment on the 46th floor of the W Hotel and Residences in the Financial District. “It’s such a slow sway you don’t really see it, but you can feel it.”
Most of the building had been evacuated because of its proximity to the water, and he’d just received an email from the building management warning residents that the power would be shut off in the next hour, basically nixing elevator use, but he and his roommate were planning to wait it out. They didn’t fear floods on the 46th floor, but both of them were motion sick. He couldn’t see the building’s sway in glasses of water, but it was visible in the pots of water they’d filled in preparation for outages, a slow ripple from one side to the other, as though a hand were gently shaking the pots back and forth.
In the Rezone
We’re kind of embarrassed to admit that this never occurred to us until just now, reading The Times‘ recap of the Midtown East debate. Sure, all the familiar arguments on both sides are there—the city is moving too fast, the city is not moving fast enough, the buildings are too big, they are not big enough, we must compete, we must consider the consequence—but there is also are new argument that should have been obvious from the start, though no one has brought it up, at least not publicly, until Charles Bagli spelled it right out.
Mysteries of Brooklyn
We know that the reason there are no skyscrapers in the middle of Manhattan has nothing to do with bedrock and everything to do with development patterns. And it is development that will alter that skyline once again. Trinity Real Estate recently unveiled their plans to rezone Hudson Square, the last undeveloped corner of Manhattan just west of Soho, north of Tribeca, south of the Village. As those neighborhoods would suggest, it is a place ripe for development. Just beware of over-development.
Make No Small Plans
Earlier this week, we profiled Tucker Reed, the recently enthroned director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. He is responsible for the continued redevelopment (some, maybe many, would call it gentrification) of the area, and he has some big plans in the works, like better connectivity and bringing in more tech firms.
It is also up to Mr. Reed to shepherd development in the area, and it looks like he will have his hands full in the coming years. The skyline has been utterly transformed along Flatbush Avenue in recent years as six new apartment towers rose during the last building boom: the Toren, the Brooklyner, the Oro, Avalon Fort Greene, the DKLB, and Forte (to say nothing of the smaller projects littering nearby neighborhoods).
But reading Brownstoner this past week, we were reminded of just how many more of these skyscraping towers are in the works, how much more the neighborhood is bound to change, maybe even a few times over.
In its final grand zoning gesture, the Bloomberg administration is racing to rezone Midtown East, paving the way for what could be a wave of huge, skyline defining towers. But in an essay in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Richard Florida seems to warn that that could be the wrong approach for New York, as it has been the case in other hyper-dense cities.
Last night, The Observer got a glimpse of the super-tall residential tower Gary Barnett has planned for Broadway and 57th Street, just one block away from his already very tall One57.
Our good friends at Curbed picked up on this and were brilliant enough to photoshop the two onto the same skyline. It is quite the striking image, but not quite complete.
After all, rival 432 Park is already underway—and looking for more investors, if you’re interested, as The Journal revealed yesterday—so we figured, what the hey, let’s put them all together.
Welcome to your new skyline, circa 2015.
Last week, The Observer learned with the help of Rutgers economics professor Jason Barr that the reason for the development of Midtown apart from Lower Manhattan, and the skyscrapers both possess, had nothing to do with bedrock beneath these towers, as had long been believed. Call it the uncanny valley, the soaring mountain range that makes the New York City skyline the best in the world.
Having determined what was not the cause of this unique skyline, The Observer thought we had figured out what was, that being the flight of the wealthy north. But it turns out one very influential urban investigator begged to differ: New Yorker architecture critic and Pullitzer Prize winner Paul Goldberger.
Among the reasons New York has the finest skyline in the world—consider that a statement of fact, not opinion—is not simply the skyscrapers bounding up the island of Manhattan but also their unusual arrangement. Like a great mountain range, the city is arrayed around the twin peaks of Downtown and Midtown.
Perhaps the appeal is Freudian.
It has long been believed that New Yorkers could thank God for their unusual agglomeration of buildings (or, for those on the Upper West Side not believing in His good work, eons of geological development). It turns out that Manhattan has a bedrock unusually suited to the construction of very tall buildings, in many cases just a few meters below the surface. But that solid land drops away in the gooey middle of the island, long limiting the heights of buildings in the city.
Or so the aphocraphists have been passing down for decades, at least since noted geologist Christopher J. Schuberth released his seminal The Geology of New York City and Environs in 1968. Therein, he posited his belief in a correlation between bedrock and big buildings, and like the Empire State Building, it has stood the test of time. But like a bad retaining wall, it all came tumbling down last month.