by Carter B. Horsley
Major highways cutting through
many of New York's suburbs have in recent years been fenced in.
It seems that some suburbanites
don't like noise and had little difficulty convincing politicians
to spend hundreds of millions, probably billions, to put up large
concrete walls around highways.
Such absurdity is being taken
to new heights by Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
who have decided that the Upper West Side of Manhattan does not
need an extension of Riverside Drive south and that Donald Trump's
mammoth Riverside South development will sit just fine smack dab
up against the elevated West Side Highway that will mar views
of the majestic Hudson River and cast shadows on the large park
that is planned for much of the site.
Remember when many Upper West
Siders thought that a proposed tower at the Coliseum sight might
cast a momentary thin shadow on Central Park?
Where are they now?
The decisions and attitudes
of the governor and the mayor and their spokespersons in this
matter are outrageous.
Their reversal of the plan is
incredible given the remarkable redesign of the project in a very
rare instance of community participation with city planners and
the private development sector. Given that the Upper West side
is unquestionable the city's most vocal, voluble and cantankerous
group of civic activists, the success of the revised plan that
drastically lowered Trump's overly ambitious original proposal,
which at one time included the world's tallest building, and substituted
a contextual architectural style and major extension of Riverside
Park to midtown for a tower-in-the-park scheme by architect Helmut
Jahn that actually bordered on being a modern interpretation of
Le Corbusier's famous tower-in-the-park plan. The scheme was not
perfect, but would have produced a stunning new and modern enclave.
Jahn was dismissed in the process
and Alexander Cooper, who was one of the creators of the design
guidelines for the residential portion of Battery Park city, was
brought in and designed a phalanx of Central Park West Art Deco-style
towers that were only 40 to 50 stories tall by and large and formed
an undulating streetwall to a large park that was to be built
over a reconstructed and sunken highway. The plan was the brainchild
of Westpride, the Municipal Arts Society, the Parks Council, the
Regional Plan Association and the Riverside Park Fund, all under
the leadership of Richard Kahan, the former head of the New York
State Urban Development Corp., and Battery Park City, and a very
savvy and astute negotiator and planner.
The new plan was accepted by
Trump and city officials who felt that its compromises would facilitate
its construction and result in a major public benefit not only
to the West Side community but also to the city as a whole. When
Trump agreed, it was widely hailed as a milestone in Post-War
II large-scale development in the city.
The new plan is uninspired and
pedestrian and a wasted opportunity, but nevertheless is handsome
and quite acceptable as it significantly extends the ambiance
and architectural style of both Riverside Park and Riverside Drive.
"Big projects can't be
arbitrarily subject to changes in administration. But that doesn't
mean you support something stupid. We had to say no. To do this
now makes no sense to us," Deputy Mayor Fran Reiter told
The New York Times, Feb. 25, of this year.
Well, Deputy Mayor Reiter may
not be stupid, but she certainly knows nothing about the city,
the Upper West Side, parks, real estate, development, and integrity.
Charles A. Gargano, chairman
of the Empire State Development Corporation, was quoted in the
same Times article as describing the highway removal as a "luxury,"
adding "and we certainly can't afford luxuries these days."
Mr. Gargano may not be stupid,
but he's not brighter than Deputy Mayor Reiter.
What's involved here is politics
of the most dastardly, venal, corrupt, irresponsible and unforgivable
The project is strongly opposed
by Congressman Jerrold L. Nadler, Democrat of Manhattan, who has
a long-standing feud with Donald Trump, which is perfectly o.k.,
and a pet project to put a new freight tunnel across the Hudson
The city has a number of things
it would like to do with Federal highway funds, which are available.
It wants Nadler's tunnel, which has received relatively little
public discussion, and which costs a lot. It wants a rail link
to the airports, which it desperately needs. It wants to create
an East Side access to the Long Island Rail Road. It wants to
convert the James A. Farley Post Office building into a rail hub
that would replace Penn Station. It wants to improve the subway
system and the Gowanus Expressway and the Manhattan and Williamsburg
bridges and the Staten Island Ferry Terminals. Most of these are
The Riverside Park extension,
however, is the second most important. The most important is a
rail link to the airports, of course.
The Riverside Park/Riverside
South controversy is an embarrassment to politicians because the
local officials let the Federal Government go ahead and spend
$70 million recently to renovate the elevated highway in question.
Well, that was stupidity by all three branches of the government,
but such stupidity does not justify breaking one's trust and making
a total mockery of all local government agreements. If a corporation
tried such financial shenanigans, it would quickly find it had
bad credit at the very least.
The civic groups involved in
the compromise with Mr. Trump should sue the city and state to
block any project that seeks to use funds from the Federal Intermodal
Surface Transportation Efficiency Act before Riverside Drive and
they should use every weapon in their arsenal to embarrass the
governor and the mayor until they support it as their first priority.
By burying the highway here,
the new buildings will have unobstructed views to the river, but
more important so will the city's residents. Who cares whether
Donald Trump makes or loses money? What is important here is the
city and taking a terrible blight that has remained fallow for
decades and making it part of one of the world's great parks at
one of the world's greatest locations. It is a no-brainer and
it also is relatively inexpensive.
Parks are not luxuries. Political
careers are and no one should ever vote for Pataki and Giuliani
unless they change their directives immediately and they should
be banished to New Jersey, which must find this very amusing.
Perhaps private citizens should build an elevated train directly
in front of City Hall and the Governor's Mansion and see how they
The Coalition for a Livable
West Side filed a law suit in the fall of 1997 that maintained
that Donald Trump had not kept a promise to use a viaduct for
the southern extension of Riverside Drive through his 75-acre
The coalition is suggesting
that Trump file a new environmental impact statement and its actions
drew the scorn and wrath of some other civic groups, such as the
Municipal Arts Society of New York, that worked with Mr. Trump
on the current plan for Riverside South as the project is known.
Construction has begun already
on the first two of 16 residential towers at the former rail yard
site where 1.8-million sq. ft. of commercial space is also contemplated.
The new towers are expected to be completed next year.
The viaduct in question was
included in a 1992 planning agreement between Mr. Trump and the
city as a way to make room for a relocated West Side Highway that
could be placed beneath a new 23-acre waterfront park.
Mr. Trump committed himself
about a year ago to building the road in question atop a mount
of landfill rather than on a steel frame, according to an Oct.
2, 1997, article by David M. Halbfinger in The New York Times.
His article quoted Brendon
Sexton, the president of the Municipal Arts Society, as describing
the coalition's opposition as "obstructionism": "They'll
do anything at this point to punish the project."
A lawsuit by the coalition
against the project "failed in 1995 after a series of appeals"
and, the article continued, "a second lawsuit, aimed at blocking
Riverside South from being connected to the North River Sewer
Treatment Plant, is still in Federal Court," and "A
third lawsuit, challenging $356 million in Federal mortgage guarantees
for four of the buildings was dismissed."
The article said that Mr.
Trump maintains he is not legally bound to build a viaduct and
that there is no specific site yet agreed upon for it. (10/4)