Finally, a Vision for the West Side
New York Times 3/28/ 2008
For years, politicians, planners and business leaders have failed to come up with a workable plan for developing Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side — the largest swath of underused land on the island.
Economically dubious, and environmentally disastrous, proposals to build football and baseball stadiums were rejected — thankfully. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has tentatively approved a plan from Tishman Speyer, a real estate operator, that would build commercial offices and housing along with green space on what is now mostly industrial wasteland.
Details must still be worked out, including assurances that there would be public access to parks and the river. There will be land-use and environmental studies, and the City Council will have to rezone half of the acreage. Already there is one glaring weakness: the shorting of affordable housing. The builders are talking about devoting only 10 percent of the residential units to affordable housing. That’s not enough, and the Council should press for more, perhaps for 20 percent.
The 26-acre parcel overlooking the Hudson River, predominantly railyards owned by the state-run M.T.A., needs to be developed. If done right, the project would eventually produce tax revenues for the city and add another great community to New York. It would also generate much-needed revenue for the cash-squeezed M.T.A. To lease development rights for 99 years, Tishman Speyer will pay about $1 billion in current dollars, according to the transportation authority. That sum exceeded most expectations.
The transformation won’t happen overnight, especially during an economic downturn. As the proposal evolves, the City Council will play an especially important role to ensure that the end result contributes to a vital neighborhood. Beyond pressing for more affordable residences, the Council must fight to preserve all of the High Line, the 1.5-mile stretch of elevated railway that is being transformed into a green jewel of public space.
The M.T.A., we are pleased to say, conducted a real bidding process. That was a refreshing change from years past when it looked as though the yards might be given away in a back-room deal. It would take a lot more vigilance and transparency to ensure that the new Hudson Yards work for all New Yorkers.