The history of this city’s revival is the history of bold ventures carried out in the face of conventional wisdom and collective lethargy. Rudolph Giuliani insisted that the city was governable when many believed otherwise. He brushed aside pieties about the supposed social roots of crime, crushed union opposition to the merger of the city’s three police forces, rebuilt neighborhoods left for dead, and revitalized the city’s body politic. In his wake, Michael Bloomberg achieved what other mayors—even Mr. Giuliani—couldn’t: He won control of the city’s school system, abolished the hidebound Board of Education, developed ambitious plans to reclaim the city’s waterfront and proposed innovations like congestion pricing and green development.
Over the past decade and a half, New York has flourished because New York learned how to get things done. It learned to put aside irrelevant ideology in the search for real solutions to long-standing problems. Not every plan came to fruition (remember the West Side stadium and the Olympics?), but there was a sense that New York was no longer in the business of managing an inevitable decline. It was in the business of moving forward.
But recent developments around the future of Moynihan Station are serving as an unfortunate reminder of those bad old days of lethargy and failure of resolve.
More than a decade ago, the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan challenged New York to do something grand on Eighth Avenue. With the Postal Service pulling its operations out of the Farley Post Office, Moynihan proposed—and got funding for—a new Penn Station in the Farley building. During the ensuing years, designs were created, press releases issued, promises made—the project was even named for its sponsor, Senator Moynihan—and very little if anything has happened. The senator passed away nearly five years ago, his dream unfulfilled.
There is a chance now that it may never be realized. This newspaper reported on its Web site last week that the owners of Madison Square Garden, the Dolan family, may be reconsidering a plan to build a new Garden adjacent to the stalled Moynihan Station site. The Garden was not part of the senator’s original vision; the man just wanted a beautiful train station. But as the project expanded and contracted, new pieces, including the Garden, were folded into the plan. The Dolans, whose stewardship of the Garden and its teams has been incompetent at best, are part of the problem on Eighth Avenue. But they are hardly the only obstacle; Governor Eliot Spitzer has not managed to bring the competing groups together and forge a feasible solution.
The Moynihan Station project has turned into a $14 billion mega-development, and for comparison’s sake, consider that Boston’s Big Dig cost about $15 billion. That project took years before it came to fruition; it finally was finished just last month. But it got done.
Moynihan Station, by contrast, remains very much undone. Various government entities are beginning to send out signals that it may never get done.
At the close of his Senate career, Pat Moynihan remained dubious that his adopted city could, in fact, build on a heroic scale anymore. It would be a shame if his doubts proved correct.