Setting the Example—Good and Bad—for East River Development

Condopia! (Getty)

It took a few decades of doing, but Long Island City has become an honest to god neighborhood. This is terribly dismissive of the factories and row houses that were there before the massive, Miami-style condos came along, but through neglect both benign and intentional, the area was nonetheless desiccated when the city and its approved developers came along 30 or so years ago, with grand visions. A shadow of its former such and such.

Now, we have strollers and French bistros and antique shops, almost anything the modern Manhattanite could want, all for half the price and the indignities of a 7-Train ride to work, which really ain’t so bad. Indeed, there is much more than those down-nose-lookers across the river have, like acres of emerald-green parks along the river, the rusty Long Island ferry and Pepsi signs giving the gleaming towers behind a whiff of authenticity and place.

It almost works, according to a critique in The Journal. Almost

East Coast is an exercise in taking a neighborhood with very little residential identity or context to build from and building it into an area so grand in scale, so modern and sterile in feel, and so unlike anything that could be said be evocative of New York City, that it is still fumbling to find an identity.

The builders built tall, statement-making buildings on small footprints, surrounded by as much green space as possible, giving the whole community a classic Corbusian feel of towers in parks surrounded by highways (the Queens-Midtown tunnel roars open onto I-495.

The statement is one of underdog, pioneer indignation: There was nothing here, no roadmap to follow and little in the way of traditional context to respect, so we’ve built towers that are just as sleek as the latest glazed-over, thumbshaped behemoths in the city.

The good thing is, this provides a teachable moment. The developers and city actually got a lot right. They made room for air, light and open space, provided public waterfront access where there had been none for upwards of a century. So what if there is no affordable housing, and the units only grow ever more expensive with each new tower, blander than the last? The fact remains, from one such whole-cloth development to the next, things are getting better.

Battery Park City requires green building, the Williamsburg/Greenpoint rezoning mandates affordable housing. So we have condos that look like they were transplanted from Miami Beach—home base of the architects, Arquitectonica. At Hudson Yards, we not only have green, affordable housing, but it is going to be the work of some of the finest designers in the entire city.

Frustrating as the delays that inevitably surround these mega-projects may be, at least it gives us some time to look around and build a better city.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC Setting the Example—Good and Bad—for East River Development