More on Manhattan
I wrote pieces recently about the Grand Central Station area ("The Battle for Building Intensification around Grand Central Station") and the Penn Station area ("(Re)Conquering Gotham: Penn Station, railroad stations, arenas and Manhattan revitalization") in Manhattan. (And you should read the comments, they are quite trenchant.)
The Wall Street Journal weighed in Thursday on the Midtown Manhattan zoning effort ("Not Visionary Enough"). The piece is worth reading as it makes the point that zoning in and of itself isn't the same as a comprehensive plan (it's not unlike the point I make that an RFP isn't a plan either).
It does make good points about how the Midtown area needs to be able to change and grow in order to maintain its competitive position with other parts of the city that have been getting public and private reinvestment.
And like the previous pieces, makes the point that the increased use of Grand Central Station when the LIRR begins service to that area, needs to be addressed now, through more and better accommodation and throughput.
Highlights from the WSJ article:
It's an ambitious proposal that strives to be inclusive but, as past missteps in this commercial core of New York show, zoning should not be mistaken for long-term comprehensive planning. ...
To be sure, Midtown desperately needs revitalization. The merits of individual buildings should not be the only issue. The whole area deserves architectural distinction, at every scale—street lamps or skyscraper silhouettes, public or private space. Reasonable people don't reject new buildings outright; they oppose bad design and monotonous, oversize boxes. And that's all too often what contemporary glass behemoths turn out to be.
But to be truly urban by today's standards, Midtown East needs texture and variety, different scales and mixed uses, green spaces and reliable infrastructure. It remains uncertain whether the rezoning proposal can deliver this, or aims to be as comprehensive as it could be. Oriented fixedly on office buildings, the plan currently contains no provisions to encourage residential building; its argument is that more than a million square feet of residential development are already in the works. The Department of City Planning report even cites conversion to hotels and condos as one of the drags on the ability of Midtown East to compete with the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong. ...
All improvements, whether on Vanderbilt or on the below-grade subway platforms, is quite innovative. All improvements would be funded by a so-called District Improvement Bonus generated only as building permits are issued. The mandatory DIB is estimated to generate on average $50 million per new building (at a rate of $250 per square foot), to be spent exclusively on the public realm. Sounds great, and developers are accustomed to this kind of pay-to-play, but the plan is based on an untested model devised for the unbuilt Hudson Yards development.
Furthermore, the streets and subway stations of Midtown are in appalling condition right now. More people power through Lexington Avenue's subway lines in the course of a day than use the entire Metro in Washington. The Long Island East Side Access project, now under construction, will allow Long Island Rail Road commuters to travel to a new terminus in Grand Central. When it is completed in 2019, some 160,000 people will join the 750,000 daily commuters already fighting like salmon to get up the stairs to Lexington and Madison avenues during rush hour. But there won't be money in the DIB fund until at least then, when the first buildings get under way.