The terrorist attacks on the United States
that demolished the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan and
destroyed part of the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., September
11, 2001 (see The City Review article)
dramatically altered the famed New York skyline but not its gritty
spirit, nor its resilience.
The remarkably quick reversal of the nation's
economy in early 2001 certainly was already beginning to affect
the city as Internet and Wall Street companies laid off workers,
real estate values eased off their astronomic climb of recent
years, and the "good times" began to pass. The impact
of the attacks on the city was immense. Tourism was off significantly
although it began to recover in late 2003. Stratospheric luxury
residential real estate values eased for a while and Mayor Bloomberg
enacted a huge property tax increase to try to balance a budget
with huge deficits. By early 2005, however, the city's sidewalks
were burgeoning with tourists and real estate values were at all-time
highs. Indeed by mid-2007, just before the sub-prime mortgage
crisis unfolded, real estate values shot up to astounding levels.
The financial crisis brought on in large
part by the "sub-prime" mortgage market and lack of
regulation of securitized mortgages brought an abrupt halt to
the astronomic rise in the city's real estate values as mortgage
lending stopped and values began to fall quite dramatically in
the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. No one
was predicting a rapid return to values and many projects were
stopped or put on hold. Fortunately, enough new product had been
created in the frenzy of the previous few years to significantly
improve many neighborhoods. While some sanity was likely to eventually
return to the lending markets the amount of family wealth wiped
out in the crisis and the contraction of the extravagant and overpaid
financial services industry in the city will significantly reduce
the number of people who can afford new "luxury" housing.
While New Yorkers are accustomed, if not inured,
to physical change, the violent removal of the World Trade Center
was too traumatic even for blasé and casual New Yorkers.
The city, of course, will survive and while humbled its great
citizens had much to be proud of in such dark hours.
Two weeks after the attacks the majority of
stores on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side sported American
flags in their store windows. Several thousand residents at Battery
Park City still were unable to return to their homes. Unemployment
was rising. The mayoral primaries, scheduled for the day of the
attacks, were postponed but held almost two weeks later with Michael
Bloomberg winning the Republican nomination and Bronx Borough
President Ferrer and Mark Green getting enough votes in the Democratic
battle between four candidates to enter a run-off that Mark Green
Mayor Giuliani, who was universally acclaimed
for his fine, sensitive and distinguished leadership during the
crisis, created a controversy when he proposed that he remain
in office for three months after his term legally ends, but the
legitimate controversy paled beside the tremendous logistics of
trying to return the city to normalcy as the nation's economy
sputtered. Mr. Giuliani also stirred a controversy when
he criticized the second offical group of proposals to redevelop
the World Trade Center site (see The City
Despite the tragic pall of gloom and citizens'
understandably creepy feelings, the mood of the city was humane
and resilient, although Mayor Bloomberg's enactment in the summer
of 2002 of a ban on smoking in most public spaces made the city
much less hospitable for those who enjoy smoking.
Mayor Bloomberg's campaign to get the 2012
Olympic Games hit a snag in early 2005 when Cablevision, the owner
of Madison Square Garden, proposed paying $600 million to the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the air-rights over
the rail yards where the New York Jets hope to erect a new stadium.
The MTA then decided to have open bidding for the land and the
future of the controversial Jets Stadium, part of a grand scheme,
known as the Hudson Yards, by the Bloomberg Administration to
redevelop the Far West Midtown area, was in doubt. (2/18/05)
The plan was finally abandoned after State
Assemblyman Sheldon Silver voted against it, arguing that it would
not benefit Lower Manhattan, his district. The city then quickly
came up with another stadium plan that involved a new stadium
for the New York Mets that could be expanded to accommodate the
Olympics. The city's selection for the Games, however, remained
in doubt even a few days before the final selection was to be
made in Singapore, July 6, 2005.
The city's plan for a stadium to replace
Madison Square Garden was coupled with a very ambitious zoning
plan that was enacted and is known as "Hudson Yards"
and which will create a diagonal boulevard between 34th and 42nd
Streets along which very large residential and commercial buildings
will be allowed.
This major rezoning is coupled with the
city's plans to expand the Javits Convention Center and extend
the 7 subway line and redevelop the former General Post Office
Building on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets into an
improved train terminal and a new site for Madison Square Garden,
whose site might be redeveloped with towers of perhaps 90-stories.
At the same time, the MTA is awaiting redevelopment
plans for its huge yards south of the convention center.
All of these plans would radically transform
a large, dreary section of midtown, but also have really major
congestion impacts on an area already burdened with traffic from
the Garment Center, the theater district and the Lincoln Tunnel.
In addition, the enormous development plans may well compete with
the revised plans (see The City Review article)
to develop Ground Zero. (9/2/07)
The topsy-turvy history of the World Trade
Center site redevelopment plan took another crazy turn when the
city's security heads said that the proposed Freedom Center was
too close to West Street and was therefore vulnerable to car and
truck plans. In about a month, however, architect David Childs
came up with a brand new plan for the tower that was not without
controversy (see The City Review article).
The city had been on a terrific roll for several
years and the national economy's volatility in late 2000 and early
2001 was beginning to impact the local economy, but still the
city had never been more vibrant or spectacular.
More than a month after the terrorist attacks,
the city streets were crowded and the normal bustle was returning.
American flags lined Park Avenue and a huge one was wrapped about
the bank building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street and American
Flag label pins were ubiquitous and T-shirt sales with patriotic
and civic messages were certainly up. The city's economy however
was hurting with restaurants and hotels reporting fewer visitors
amid ever growing cost projections of rebuilding and rising unemployment
and corporate move-outs.
Memorable memorial concerts were held and once
again the Yankees were in the World Series and New York City won
the gentle hearts of Americans everywhere.
On May 30, 2002, the rescue efforts at the
World Trade Center site came to a formal end with the very, very
moving ceremony with no speeches that centered on the carrying
away of a empty stretcher draped with an American flag as a symbolic
gesture for the more than 1,700 bodies not found and followed
by the last remaining beam of the World Trade Center draped in
black on a 18-wheel truck. Controversy continued to swirl over
what should be done with the site and a short-lived memorial in
the form of twin towers of light beams was widely hailed but ended
after few weeks. By the spring of 2002, the American flag was
not quite as ubiquitous in the city as it had been, but there
was no doubt that hearts and minds had changed a lot.
Eleven months after the attacks, plans for
rebuilding the World Trade Center (see The
City Review article) were in a shambles as widespread negative
criticism greeted six schemes published by the Lower Manhattan
Development Corporation. In December 2003, plans for the redevelopment
of the center and the creation of a memorial were mired in controversy.
In late 2004, plans were advancing and a federal court finally
ruled that the attacks on the World Trade Center were two separate
incidents, a decision that was likely to assure that the major
tower of the planned reconstruction of the center would go forward.
A major blackout that lasted about a day disrupted
routines in the city but passed without much frenzy - New Yorkers
if anything were tougher and more resilient than ever in the wake
of September 11, 2001.
Every year, almost every day, New York
City changes and gets better.
Real estate cycles go and come but their legacies
only continue to build a more dramatic and awesome urban environment.
Not all new projects, of course, are brilliant and in the process
of change too often good parts of the city's fabric get frayed,
or lost, but in the aggregate the residue of progress just keeps
Indeed, evidence of the city's energy was visible
by early 2005 in almost every Manhattan neighborhood. New construction
and renovation projects added scores of new and surprisingly well-designed
projects and plans were in motion for several huge projects.
Many of the new projects, more importantly,
were a vast improvement in design over what the city had become
accustomed to and suddenly many striking projects were being designed
by famous architects such as Frank O. Gehry, Sir Norman Foster,
Richard Rogers, Herzog & De Meuron, and Jean Nouvel and numerous
firms that were not well known such as Gsyzwinski Pons, SHoP Architects,
and Lindy Roy. (9/2/07)
Despite the hype about glitches and terrorism,
Y2K came and went with nary a hitch, and New York City topped
its Millennium celebration with a "Subway Series" in
which the New York Yankees defeated the New York Mets in the World
The "turnover" into the Christian
year 2000 was marked with major celebrations around the world,
most of which were well televised and documented by ABC News,
led by its superb anchor, Peter Jennings. New York City's famed
Times Square event came rather late in the global festivities
that began in the Pacific and headed west.
The televised, domino-fall celebrations were
an important global event, almost on a par with the great Live-Aid
concert in the early 1980s. While most people probably did not
stay glued to their TV's for the observation of the calendar roll-over
in 24 time zones for the entire day, it was a civilizing moment
in history, even if the celebrations themselves were sometimes
close to silly. Live-Aid was momentous for its trans-Atlantic
broadcast of many of the brightest stars of the music industry
performing in the cause of charity to a stupendously large world-wide
audience. This New Year's/Century/s/Millennium's observance was
special in its simple but dramatic illustration of globalization,
the wonders and potential of technology and respect for different
cultures and nationalities. While TV audiences come together at
times of traumatic events, highlighting mankind's communality
is highlighted, most other TV events of magnitude are less inspired
and merely sporting. This international celebration, at least
on ABC, was far from traumatic. Indeed, under Jennings' always
sophisticated but gentle leadership, it was inspiring and a superb
The highlight was the spectacular Eiffel Tower
festivities in Paris, followed by the quite stunning Washington
Monument extravaganza in Washington, D.C.
For more than a generation, the French have
espoused grands monuments and if not always in the vanguard of
great design have been the leaders of public projects. The explosive
Eiffel Tower fireworks were awesome, but no less impressive were
the 11 Ferris Wheel-like structures erected for the occasion along
the Champs Elysées.
It perhaps should not be surprising that the
Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument were such stellar settings:
both are very tall structures isolated in large park-like environments
that provide them with great visibility and drama.
According to Peter Jennings, England's celebration
was designed to startle and dazzle the world, but unfortunately
it followed Paris by an hour and paled in comparison. London had
an impressive Ferris Wheel, some fifty stories or so in height,
and its huge Millennium Dome, a work of gigantic scale and impressive
engineering, but somewhat awkward aesthetics. The highlight of
the London celebration was supposedly the setting on fire of a
four-mile stretch of the Thames. Smoke from the fireworks, however,
obscured the view as well as surprisingly bad TV camera work and
direction and the event ended up being rather lackluster, especially
for a nation so steeped in pageantry and tradition.
The coverage of simultaneous celebrations in
many parts of Europe taxed the production. What could be more
vexing than cutting away from the Pope at the Vatican and from
the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to stay focused on the incredible
displays at the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately, the producers came
to their senses and Paris, deservedly, got the most coverage.
For New Yorkers, of course, the highlight should
have been New York, but because of the anti-civilian, anti-pedestrian
propensities of the terror-stricken Giuliani Administration, many
people were turned away from Times Square after 8 PM and broad
lanes were left open for emergency vehicles, the police and the
press, taking away large amounts of precious street space for
celebrants. The crowds were still fairly impressive and the fireworks
from the top of the building that The New York Times sold
and for which the former Longacre Square was renamed in honor
of the newspaper that is now considering selling its sidestreet
headquarters building and relocating, were alright. (The newspaper's
coverage of the event, however, was fine, especially the lead
story by the always fabulous Robert McFadden, one of journalism's
most underrated stars and the newspaper's lead rewriteman for
As uninspired as New York's celebration was,
certainly in comparison with the great Macy's Thanksgiving Day
Parades, perhaps because it was essentially a static event, Times
Square certainly never looked better. The blaze of colored lights
from the profusion of signs, many of which are very new, was the
long-delayed vindication of the efforts of many groups and individuals
to rejuvenate the famous "crossroads" after its precipitous
decline that began several decades ago. Some observers felt that
many of the official planners' decisions in rezoning and promoting
this vital area were uninspired and prosaic and certainly during
the day Times Square is a strange brew of not terribly exciting
post-war buildings (with the exception of the blue-glass Bertlesmann
Building designed for Ian Bruce Eichner by Skidmore, Owings &
Merrill) that overshadowed the great Paramount Building and the
raped former terracotta-clad Times Tower that was eventually covered
with white marble by Allied Chemical. Some still mourn the tragic
loss of the fine Astor Hotel, which was replaced by the bulky,
finned glass tower at One Astor Plaza at 44th Street.
By night, however, the planners' insistence
on abundant signage has proved to be brilliant. The pedestrian
now is surrounded by canyon walls of rippling lights and while
some of the signs are not terribly chic, the overall effect is
very good and impressive.
Just a couple of years ago, there was some
concern that the area would become Disneyfied and bland. Those
fears have largely subsided in large part to the funny bronze
sculpture of a Times Square hustler shopping his coat full of
watches outside the Warner Bros. Store diagonally across from
the Disney store at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, the great
large model of the sensational Concorde plane above an attractive,
glass-enclosed brewery on the south side of 42nd Street between
Seventh Avenue and Broadway, the very well-done new fence in the
middle of the street divider between 45th and 46th Streets, and
the very large undulating ribbons of lights for ABC-TV one block
to the south.
While the great Times Square "spectaculars"
created by Douglas Leigh, who passed away shortly before the end
of 1999, and others, will forever be missed, the new Times Square
is finally beginning to be fabulous. Mayor Giuliani's attempt
to squash the civil liberties of sex-related entrepreneurs in
the area has been largely successful despite its highly questionable
legality, but credit for the area's "clean-up" more
properly should go to the Times Square Business Improvement District
that took many clues from the excellent leadership of the Grand
Central Business Improvement District under Daniel Biderman who
was removed at the mayor's insistence, perhaps because of his
Times Square may not be squeaky-clean, or Tweety-clean,
but it is bustling as never before with tourists and surburban
theatergoers and, just as importantly, office workers. Most of
the sex-related emporiums have been closed or now are far less
offensive than most newsstands.
The controversial plan of Park Tower Realty
and the Prudential Insurance Company to develop a Rockefeller
Center-like complex of related office towers at the south end
of Times Square fell afoul of the city's anti-development forces
and difficult economic times. The tortured plan went though various
revisions, some of which were quite exciting and impressive, but
finally succumbed to the pressures of a city that has difficulty
coping with the notion of good, let alone, great design despite
its pre-1960's architectural heritage.
While the Millennium celebration in the city
proved the banality of the Giuliani Administration, it really
was a grand inaugural for the "new" Times Square, which
may well change from being the city's agonized stomach to its
Of course, the Giuliani Adminstration deserves
some credit for this remarkable renaissance, whose incubation
was so painful and "birth" so quick. Obviously, it did
not occur overnight, but in recent months the completion of the
Condé Nast tower, designed nicely by Fox & Fowle for
the Durst Organization, and the topping out of the Reuters Tower
on the east and west sides of the avenues flanking the former
Times Tower on the north side of 42nd Street, coupled with the
unveiling of the new ABC studio facilities that joined those nearby
of MTV, and the construction of a new tower on 47th Street and
Broadway, bought a new sense of enclosure to Times Square. The
tremendous amount of investment in the area and the public perception
that it is not only safe, but fun reflect that the Guiliani Administration
is doing some things right.
At the start of the year 2000, major construction
was once again in the air: The Fisher Brothers and Sheldon Solow
were reported by The New York Post and The New York
Times to have been selected to redevelop a very large and
important multi-block south along the East River just to the south
of the United Nations complex; Larry Silverstein, who is building
more than 900 apartment on West 42nd Street, decided to relinquish
to the city a site north of the Javits Convention Center for its
expansion; a major underdeveloped site on West 57th Street close
to the Hudson River is being studied for development; the city
and state were reported by The New York Times to have finally
agreed upon a plan for Governors Island that will include some
private redevelopment of historic properties, some facilities
for educational institutions and some for cultural institutions.
Perhaps more importantly, the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum of Art proposed a gigantic new mixed-used project including
museum facilities and broad waterfront promenades designed by
Frank Gehry for the East River waterfront south of the South Street
Seaport. (See The City Review article.)
The fall-off in travel and tourism, however, severely impacted
many of the city's cultural institutions after the terrorist attack,
including the Guggenheim and it eventually abandoned its plan
for the new waterfront museum.
The fact that everything went smoothly, of
course, was a great way to start the last year of the second "millennium,"
and for that New York and the Giuliani Administration should be
If the 90's started
out pretty cruelly for New York City, the "Millennium"
has begun with a roar and considerably brightened prospects, and
projects. One of the most spectacular is the new planetarium,
shown below, given by the Rose family, leading developers in the
city, the American Museum of Natural History.
Another is the LVMH
Tower designed by Christian Portzamparc on the north side of 57th
Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, a bold building of angles
and unusual colors, shown below.
Indeed, euphoria was
already in the air at the beginning of 1998, the centennial of
the consolidation of the five "boroughs" into New York
City, a sweet smell for those with no memories. The centennial
of "Greater New York," however, passed without too much
brouhaha as the city seemed more focused on the Millenium party
mood. Unlike London, however, it was not building any grand public
works, but its rebounded economy began in 1999 to revive interest
in some very important, long delayed projects such as the Second
Avenue subway (see The City Review article)
and a new transportation link to its airports. Unfortunately,
the officials proposals are minimal, but, happily, that fact has
aroused some controversy.
A sharp dive at the
end of the summer in 1998 had send chills up the backs of many
investment bankers, real estate brokers, restauranteurs and art
dealers. The market's quick and strong recovery that fall, however,
calmed most nerves, even of those who endured the 1987 crash that
severely impacted the city's economy. There was no denying that
the city's fundamentals and spirits were in much better shape
than at the beginning of the decade and that the city has never
been more attractive to non-New Yorkers.
seems everywhere. Crime is down. Construction is once
again going up. Tourists are everywhere.
The many other positive
Despite press reports
late in 1998 that theme restaurant chains might be losing some
of their luster, those in the city appeared to be faring very
well for the most part. The "Deuce" - West 42nd Street
- showed tangible and exciting, indeed, almost unbelievable, signs
of a renaissance, culminating in the unveiling April 3, 1997,
of Disney's superb restoration, with a good bit of public monies, of
the New Amsterdam Theater, which reopened in November, 1997, and
the literal moving down the block in March, 1998, of the former
Etinge theater to make way for a new entertainment complex on
its former site. Despite the collapse of some scaffolding, the
Durst Organization quickly moved ahead with its major new skyscraper,
4 Times Square, on the northeast corner at Broadway and Reuters
is planning to occupy another new tower on the northwest corner
at Seventh Avenue and Ernst & Young announced it would occupy
yet another tower on the southwest corner at the same intersection.
The renaissance of Times
Square is not likely to slow soon, as the city announced a plan
December 29, 1998 that would substantially increase the value
of the transfer of air-rights over many theaters in the area and
produce perhaps as much as $20 million for the Broadway Initiative,
a funding consortium for the production of "straight"
plays and small musicals on Broadway.
The plan would
permit 25 theaters to transfer their unused "air rights"
anywhere between 40th and 57th Streets and the Avenue of the Americas
and Eighth Avenue in return for promising to operate their properties
as theaters and paying $10 a square foot to the Initiative from
such "air rights" sales. For decades the city
has staunchly resisted the creation of an air rights transfer
bank and this plan is a major step in the right direction.
The new Times Square
is crazily new and bustling as 31 million tourists flocked to
the city in 1996, an all-time high.
ensconced in a new Warner Bros. Studio Store in the former Times
Tower at the foot of Times Square there is little concern that
the area's transformation is too squeaky clean. The area
is certainly not sterile, even if the sex emporiums came under
severe zoning pressure to move, if not disappear. The owners
of sex shops were unsuccessful in getting the U.S. Supreme Court
to review their appeal of the city's stringent, new zoning regulations
against them and the city immediately started closing many of
them, a victory for the "righteous," but a loss for
The Coliseum project
became a phoenix and once again tempted developers and taunted
planners. In late July, 1998, the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority selected the Related Companies and Apollo Real Estate
Advisers to build a scaled-down, slightly modified version of
the last plan by the same architects , Skidmore, Owings &
Merrill, for Mortimer J. Zuckerman. The project, whose steel
skeleton began to sprout in late 2001, will include a new
corporate headquarters for Time Warner, a hotel, apartments, television
studios and a concert hall for Jazz at Lincoln Center (see The City Review story).
A September, 1997 Gallup
Poll indicated that a majority of Americans wanted to live in
New York City and the November 24, 1997 issue of Fortune Magazine
ranked New York first as desirable cities in which to live in
the United States, an incredible turnaround in attitudes.
The city not only may
take over Governor's Island from the Federal Governor, (See The City Review story), but also considering
casino gambling there a la Monte Carlo, but in January, 2000,
Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki agreed to a mixed-used scheme
that precluded casinos. Although a casino plan, which would regain
the enormous revenues lost to Atlantic City, did not pick up momentum,
in January, 1998, the first gambling cruise ship, the Edinburgh
Castle, began operations from West 55th Street. (See The
City Review story).
Crime was down, 9.1
percent in 1997, and murders fell to their lowest level since
1967. A November, 1997 report by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation said that 149 cities in the country had
worse crime rates and that New York's rate fell 9 percent in the
first half of the year, more than double the national rate of
decline. (Atlanta had the nation's highest crime rate, followed
by Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Miami, Florida.)
Some major companies
and financial concerns decided to stay in the city.
The long-overdue reconstruction
of the Long Island Rail Road Station at Penn Station was completed
and, remarkably, turned out pretty darn well, especially its new
entrance on 34th Street. In March, 1998, plans
were announced for the reconstruction of the General Post Office
Building on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Street into a
facility that will incorporate a "new" Penn Station.
While almost anything will be an improvement, the G.P.O.
Building is a massive, cumbersome Beaux Arts structure with many
columns but not much distinction and certainly not in the same
league as the forever to be lamented former Penn Station.
Meanwhile, the restoration
of Grand Central Terminal was completed in October, 1998, (see
The City Review article) to wide and
justified acclaim at a small fraction of the cost of a new baseball
stadium for the New York Yankees contemplated for the West Side
by Mayor Giuliani.
(Much less important
but symbolically interesting is the fact that Bridgemarket, the
proposed Piranesian "food court" beneath the Manhattan
approach to the Queensborough Bridge finally began construction
in late 1997, two decades after it was proposed by another developer,
Harley Baldwin, under the new aegis of Terence Conran, the entrepreneur
who for many years had a big store at Citicorp Center. Not
surprisingly, however, in the spring of 1998, Conran sued the
city for leasing out part of the space to the Food Emporium, a
supermarket that he felt was not up to his standards, and the
project was again delayed, but opened at the end of 1999.)
More subway stations
were renovated, often very attractively, and, most impressively
and incredibly, New Yorkers took to the new Metrocard with nary
New street fixtures
such as lamp posts sprung up in a few sections of Manhattan and
were reasonably handsome and largely the results of the efforts
of business improvement districts, organizations that Mayor Giuliani
decided in the spring of 1998 to try to exercise control over
despite their fine record of achievement in the face of a vacuum
of public planning. Indeed, in late July, 1998, the Giuliani Administration
moved controversially to seize the assets of the Grand Central
Business Improvement District's, probably the city's most important
and successful, in a move that seemed to ignore its very impressive
accomplishments, under the very fine leadership of Daniel Biederman,
that a few people apparently thought might be considered an embarrassment
to the city's administration. Incredibly, the Mayor forced the
resignation of Mr. Biederman and subsequently continued his campaign
to undercut the importance of these very successful and important
The Museum of Modern
Art revealed plans for yet another major expansion and selected
Yoshio Taniguchi as its architect. (See The
City Review's analysis of the museum's plan.)
Donald Trump rebuilt
the former Gulf & Western Building on Columbus Circle into
a glossy, bronze-glass hotel and apartment tower and turned his
eye on a Central Park South dowager, the St. Moritz Hotel, whose
Art Deco style he said he did not plan to eradicate, but before
the deal was closed the Don was trumped by hotelier Ian Schrager
who grabbed up the attractive and undervalued property. The Don,
however, undeterred as always, soon announced plans for the world's
tallest residential tower on First Avenue close to the United
Nations (see The City Review article).
The "as-of-right" plan, which involved the transfer
of air rights from adjacent properties, quickly brought a lot
of local protests that it would be inappropriate for the site,
across the avenue from the United Nations complex. Indeed, it
is not clear at all how his plan does not violate the prohibition
against buildings taller than the great Secretariat Building,
a prohibition that led the United Nations Hotel and the United
Nations Plaza apartments to curtail their heights, but civic watchdogs
have been rather quiescent in recent years, and Trump won in the
first round of lawsuits against the project.
Some progress was finally
made in the fall of 1997 in the effort to improve public transportation
to the city's airports. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gov.
Pataki agreed on a scaled-down connection between a train station
in Jamaica, Queens, and the Kennedy International Airport. The
$1.5-billion , 10-station project covers about 8.4 miles and is
a quarter of the the cost of a proposed, and desperately needed,
22-mile rail link between Manhattan, Kennedy International Airport
and LaGuardia Airport. The Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey said the scaled-down rail link could be completed by
2002, however, the project is not without transfers, more possible
controversy and a tremendous amount of irresponsible short-sightedness
on the part of elected officials. The planned rail link
will connect the Kennedy airport with the Howard Beach and Jamaica
subway stations and the Long Island Rail Road station in Jamaica
and will have a loop system connecting terminals at the airport.
Such a plan, obviously, is inadequate because of the difficult
The city rezoned parts
of the commercial district in Lower Manhattan to permit the conversion
of some older office buildings into apartment buildings to promote
more diversity in the area and help bail out some distressed owners
and by the end of 1998 more than 3,000 apartments will have been
created in just a few years. New residential towers were announced
for Battery Park City. One of the most impressive signs
of downtown's renaissance was purchase in late September, 1997,
of the landmark, 7-story building at 55 Wall Street by a group
including the Cipriani restaurant family with plans to convert
it into a 160-room luxury hotel. The new owners, who paid $27
million for the low-rise, 155-year-old building, plan to preserve
its spectacular and glorious, 70-ft.-high, former banking hall,
shown at the left, in a project that may well become the classiest
of all hotels in the city. The Cipriani family owns Harry's
Bar in Venice and some restaurants in New York and was joined
in the acquisition by Sidney Kummel, an apparel entrepreneur,
and T. Richard Butera, who owns the landmark Hotel Jerome in Aspen,
Colo. The building was originally domed and only three stories
tall and was designed by Isaiah Rogers as a Merchants' Exchange,
in 1836. In 1863, it was converted to a U.S. Custom House,
and the remodelling was designed by William A. Potter. In
1907, it was expanded to its present size in a design by McKim,
Mead & White. Citibank eventually took over the building
and in 1981 installed a very dramatic red lacquer wedge, designed
by The Walker Group, in the great hall that was very dramatic
but low enough not to interfere with the sumptuous interior decoration.
In October, 1998, the Ciprianis were reported to be taking over
the great former banking hall of the former Bowery Savings Bank
at 110 East 42nd Street for conversion to a catering hall across
from just renovated Grand Central Terminal. It won't be long before
the Ciprianis are more famous for their spectacular restaurants
here rather than in Rome and for being great preservationists.
Silicon Alley came into
being in Lower Manhattan, a possible harbinger that the city might
still be able to attract some business enterprises and by the
fall of 1997 New York led the nation in the number of Internet
"domains," according to the Taub Urban Research Center
of New York University.
The explosion of interest
in the Internet obviously bodes well for the communications capital
of the world.
Of course, the collapse
of the dot.com euphoria in the stock markets and the subsequent
failure of many such enterprises in late 2000 and early 2001 cast
a somber cloud over Silicon Alley, but some observers feel that
while many such enterprises were going by the wayside now the
Internet still has a potent future.
Mayor Guiliani's campaign
to address "quality-of-life" issues struck a resonant
chord initially although his subsequent anti-jay-walking efforts
and the harrassment of artists outside the Metropolitan Museum
of Art beginning in February, 1998, have seriously questioned
the wisdom of our "city fathers" and their rather authoritarian
and anti-pedestrian vision of New York.
In addition to alienating most pedestians, Mayor Giuliani alienated
most people who love a great parade with his adminstration's heavy-handed
regulation of the legendary Halloween Parade that starts in Greenwich
Village. The mayor's heavy-handed ways were also to be seen in
his homeless-work initiatives in 1999 that also produced considerable
New restaurants continue
Hotels are running at
about 85 percent occupancy, a record.
The city would like
to expand the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
The office vacancy rate
in midtown fell below double digits for the first time in more
than 12 years and rents are soaring. (See The
City Review story.) The loss of millions of square feet
of office space in Lower Manhattan as a result of the terrorist
attacks helped somewhat a market that had begun to deteriorate
because of the declining economy, but coupled with corporate relocations
spurred by the attack outside of the city and to midtown downtown's
prospects were not bright for the short term and ambitious proposals
to greatly improve transportation to downtown and possibly tunnel
West Street along Battery Park City were being advanced after
the terrorist attack but funding for such plans remained very
continue to be upgraded.
Architect Robert Venturi's
hokey and terrible, but approved, plan for a new Staten Island
Ferry Terminal at the Battery with an enormously ugly and uninspired
rooftop clock tower facing the bay and marring the skyline was
canceled as a lack of funding required a downsized redesign. While
a new design, not by Venturi, for the Manhattan terminal is rather
bland, Staten Island came up with a stunning and wonderful design
by Peter Eisenman for its ferry terminal, a mind-boggling development.
(See The City Review story.) Eisenman's
plan, not surprisingly, apparently got lost in the shuffle a bit
Apartment prices and
rents have soared. Some very deluxe apartments now command prices
in the eight digits, not counting the cents!
Central Park, shown
below, has never looked better, nor been better kept, although
the recent replacement of the Children's Zoo in it was terrible.
(See The City Review story.)
Christie's, the auction
house, signed a lease March 25, 1997, for new expanded quarters
at 20 Rockefeller Plaza, an indication of the planned revitalization
of Rockefeller Center (see The City Review
article) by its new owners, a partnership headed by Tishman
Speyer Properties. The new owners, however, soon therefter sought
permission from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to
create larger retail windows on much of the center's frontage
on Fifth Avenue and the commission, incredulously, gave them permission
to do so, albeit with some compromises, giving in to "eye-level"
marketing and ignoring architectural integrity.
While Sotheby's, which
finally completed its renovation of its York Avenue facility in
April, 2001, Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg forged ahead in
its onslaught on Sotheby's and Christie's, both under dark legal
clouds, by opening a new facility at 3 West 57th Street.
Although many art galleries
exited SoHo for cheaper space in Chelsea, SoHo remains one of
the city's most vibrant neighborhoods.
And a March 12, 1997,
New York Times poll declared that "New Yorkers are more upbeat
about their city than they have been in nearly a decade, with
their views of crime, the economy and the future, suggesting that
many have discarded the grim self-image that gripped them just
four years ago."
A rosy future, however,
is not necessarily in the cards. Race relations were not helped
by the failure of a jury in Albany in early 2000 to convict four
New York City police officers in firing 41 shots at an unarmed
civilian in his own building and by Mayor Giuliani's comments
that seemed to express more sympathy for the police than the victim,
a rather incredulous and insensitive attitude, but not one surprising
from a mayor known more for his nastiness than his sophistication.
The many negative signs
The corporate exodus
and downsizing continues: Merrill Lynch announced major layoffs
in the wake of the 1998 decline in the stock markets and Cunard,
one of the great names in oceanliner history, said it would relocate
to Miami. In the fall of 1999, Chase revealed it might be
relocating a few thousand jobs out of the city and the very tight
commercial real estate market led to dramatic rent increases and
a shortage of large blocks of space with the result that interest
renewed in the Jersey City waterfront for relocation. Another
old New York company, the Wiley publishing house, also indicated
it might relocate. Downtown, increased demand and rents may slow
down the pace of residential conversions of some older office
buildings. The 522,000-sq. ft. office building at 10 Hanover
Square, for example, had been scheduled for such a conversion
until recently when Goldman Sachs signed a lease for the entire
Even more shocking was
a paragraph item in the Sept. 29, 1997, issue of Crain's New York
Business that "Lever House will soon be without Lever Brothers"
as Unilever, the parent company, announced it will move out of
the world famous modern building (see The
City Review article) at 390 Park Avenue and "likely leave
Manhattan for facilities in the surrounding metropolitan area
before the end of 1998." The article indicated that
its corporate headquarters may remain at the green-glass tower,
but that 600 workers at Lever Brothers might be affected. In the
October 27, 1998 edition of The New York Post, Peter Slatin reported
that Aby Rosen's RFR Holdings had gained control of the famous
office building's leasehold and was negotiating a 99-year extension
of the ground lease with Sarah Korein. Slatin wrote that Rosen
was considering adding to the building, which has about 240,000
square feet of development rights. Rosen was quoted in the article
as saying he would spend "only about $7 million to fix the
bulding's leaky windowed curtain wall, almost half of which has
been refurbished by the building's sole tenant, Unilever."
Slatin added that "the soap giant also has agreed to remain
in the top four floors of the building, the rest of which is vacant."
The tax burden on city
residents and companies still remains uncompetitively high.
The city is planning
to present its City Council with a major revision of Manhattan
zoning that will seriously impact the development of tall buildings,
an overreaction to Donald Trump's snookering, however brilliantly
accomplished by legal manuevering, of the city's rules for his
ultra-tall tower near the United Nations that insults the United
Nations by not conforming to the tradition that surrounding buildings
should be lower.
Unemployment in the
city remains at one of the highest rates in the nation, falling
from a peak of 10 percent in June to 8.7 percent in November,
1997, its lowest rate in a year. Following the terrorist attacks,
the city lost tens of thousands of jobs.
The major proposals
of the recently announced Third Plan of the Regional Plan Association
barely received lip service from major political leaders and editorial
The city lost most of
Ellis Island to New Jersey. (See The
City Review story.)
The general public malaise
with Washington is fueling attempts to transfer power and responsibilities
from the Federal to state governments despite the fact that Federal
agencies generally have higher standards and competence than their
state counterparts. Furthermore, New York's governor does not
hail from the city.
The city continues to
fail to offer a planning and construction environment capable
of encouraging and permitting exciting design and as a result
the city festers while the rest of the country and the world witness
spectacular new projects. Even the architecture critic of
The New York Times, Herbert Muschamps, bemoaned, in a January
8, 1998, column, that "the city is in deep trouble":
"Despite the oratory emanating from the Giuliani administration
about the value of culture, the city's Department of Cultural
Affairs has been asked to accept an 11 percent cut in funds for
the coming fiscal year. Ditto the Department of Parks. As
for the Department of City Planning, an agency that once exercised
enlightened stewardship over the public realm, well, as, Tennessee
Williams used to say, 'Baby, don't let me commence.'"
A perfect example of
the city's planning deficit was the Guiliani Administration's
Christmas 1997 imposition of pedestrian no-walk zones in midtown,
such as that shown above on Madison Avenue and 50th Street, that
placed a higher value of cars than people! The
situation worsened in February, March and April, 1998, with the
arrests of many artists who sold their "art" outside
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which in April, 1998 posted a
sign near its admissison counter saying that it supported free
speech but also needed visitors to pay admissions and not heed
the pleas of some of the protesting artists to reduce the amount
of their "voluntary contribution" as a means of supporting
their cause. The sign was removed after a while and the
many arrests of the leader of the artists' protest were subsequently
dismissed. The almost daily arrests were made by the Parks Department,
which should be concerned with more serious matters than suppression
of artistic license, especially at the Metropolitan Museum of
The Metropolitan Transportation
Authority made some progress on the controversial future of its
Coliseum convention facility on Columbus Circle and after much
delay selected a winning bid from the 9 recently submitted proposals
that were not at all exciting. The winning bid is a recycling
with minor adjustments of the previous plan by Mortimer Zuckerman
for the site. (See The City Review story.)
Plans to reconstruct
Penn Station by expanding it into a rebuilt Grand Central Post
Office building on the other side of Eighth Avenue were scaled
back somewhat and revised, again, although financing plans for
the mammoth and much needed project advanced, albeit without much
architectural review. In March 1998, the Postal Service
finally agreed to parts of the plan, hopefully indicating that
the project will advance more quickly after long delays.
The Not In My Back Yard
(NIMBY) syndrome persists, thwarting virtually all good design
and most new projects as civic pride continues to be replaced
and overshadowed by neighborhood intransigence, if not ignorance
Public pay toilets remained
a backwater and a sad commentary on the city's legendary bureaucratic
continued to talk, ruining a noble New York Yankee baseball heritage
and insulting all fans with an arrogance unmatched since Boss
Tweed. Mayor Giuliani apparently was a devout listener,
suggesting in April, 1998, that the city fund a major new stadium
over rail yards south of the Javits Convention Center by not fully
reducing its commercial rent occupancy tax as planned. Such
a proposal would embarass Boss Tweed as much as it would enrich
and delight Steinbrenner and should surely force every resident
of The Bronx to never vote for Mayor Giuliani for anything.
The Mets, meanwhile, unveiled soon thereafter impressive plans
to build an Ebbets Field-like baseball park with a retractable
roof on a parking lot next to Shea Stadium. There is nothing
wrong with Shea or Yankee Stadium and there is absolutely no reason
to build new stadiums for these teams, especially the Yankees. During
the summer of 1998, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer presented
an excellent proposal to improve the area around the famous Bronx
stadium and connect it to a redevelopment riverfront. (See
The City Review article.) The Yankees, meanwhile, had a spectacular
season and won the World Series in a sweep.
Apartment prices and
rents climbed ever more dramatically and astronomically (see The City Review article).
New York University
demolished the Palladium theater and nightclub at 126 West 14th
Street west of Third Avenue, the former Academy of Music theater,
and one of the Manhattan's last movie palaces. As designed
by Arata Isozaki, the great Japanese architect, the Palladium
quickly became the most spectacular disco in the city and it is
demolition is outrageous as its interior is an international landmark
and its neighborhood history is significant and there is plenty
of other development sites in the immediate vicinity, including
a large parking lot across the street! The university plans
a 1,000-bed dormitory on the Palladium site and is already constructing
another dormitory just to the west of it on the former site of
Luchow's, the legendary German restaurant.
According to a Dec.
19, 1997 article by Peter Grant in The Daily News the number
of employed construction workers in the city climbed from 83,100
in 1992 to 94,300 in 1997, but "still way below the 121,800
figure set in 1988."
While Mayor Guiliani's
interest in "quality of life" issues had some beneficial
effects, many of his policies were not popular, especially his
unsuccessful attempt to censor the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the
fall of 1999 for a controversial art show (see The
City Review article).
is progress and New York is certainly in better shape than it
has been in almost a decade. This period, however, has been fraught
with catastrophe for many individuals and concerns and has been
one of the longest depressions ever experienced by the city and
its scars will linger for decades.
A city's health can
be measured in many ways.
The amount of new office
construction, for example, is a good indication of a city's momentum
and economic prospects as it reflects not only developers' ambitions,
but also lending institutions' analyses of future demand for office
space and therefore jobs.
Similarly, new "luxury"
apartment construction indicates at least part of the population
is upwardly mobile and capable, somehow, of paying higher rents.
New one-bedroom apartments in converted office buildings near
the South Sea Street Seaport are being offered at around $2,000
a month and new studio apartments around TriBeCa, on the other
side of the island were being offered at $1,950 and up in the
fall of 1998!
New York City is still
beset by a host of staggering problems that are not likely to
be solved quickly: a very high cost of doing business; economic
warfare not only with the region, but also with the rest of the
nation and the world; an enormous, but aged and aching infrastructure;
noble traditions; a frightening education system; outrageous and
extensive slums; far too much visual blight; a very diverse, but
not broadly wealthy population; a tangled government; onerous
and not always equitable taxes; and great confusion and hysteria
over public policies of fair distribution of difficult land uses,
historic preservation and economic development.
Sadly, such a litany
could have been written at almost any time over the past few decades.
Yet much is different
and in many ways the city is far better than it used to be even
in its glory days before the Brooklyn Dodgers and much of the
city's middle class fled. (Of course, if the city could
get the Dodgers back, that would be a definite something!)
The city has two balance
sheets to tally: one is human resources and the other is its man-made
and natural environments.
Of the former,
the obvious demographic changes in the city have tipped wildly:
hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of white middle-class
residents have fled since World War II and have been replaced
by a far more diverse group of immigrants. Regardless of official
census counts, however, the city's population probably has not
declined significantly in recent decades. The city's population,
however, is certainly down from its historic peaks and nowhere
near what it can support in terms of infrastructure.
The great historic strength
of the city, of course, has been the diversity and dynamics of
its population mix. As the city of opportunity and the nation's
major port of entry, New York has not only attracted both poor,
but ambitious immigrants, but also the affluent. New York is the
definitive hotbed of global multiculturalism. Never a pristine,
homogeneous enclave, New York has always been an in-your-face,
upfront, spicy potpourri of the best and worst in human society,
an unforgettable reminder, constantly, of humanity's refinements
released December 1, 1997, by the Taub Urban Research Center
at New York University that was based upon an analysis of data
gathered by the U.S. Census found that Hispanics have replaced
blacks as the second largest racial/ethnic group in the five boroughs.
"In 1996, there were 1.926 million Hispanics in New York
City, an increase of more than 143,000 from the 1.783 million
recorded in the 1990 U.S. Census. More than one out of ten New
Yorkers is from Asia. While blacks also increased during this
period, their total rose by less than 50,000, from 1.847 million
to 1.894 million. During the same period whites declined by nearly
385,000 from 3.163 million to 2.780 million, while Asians rose
from 490,000 to 630,000," the study maintained.
By the year 2000, it
continued, "approximately 37.5% of the city's population
will be foreign-born, a percentage that rivals the high point
of immigration for New York City in 1910, when 40% of the city's
population was foreign-born."
The data show that the
number of foreign-born persons in New York City has risen dramatically
since 1980, when 23.4%, or 1.7 million, were immigrants. By 1996,
that number had grown to more than 2.4 million, or 33.9% of the
city's population. the study found.
and downsizings as well as the evaporation of urban manufacturing
activities have severely narrowed economic opportunities and further
exacerbated the exigencies of survival in an already costly environment.
The erosion of its economic base is coupled with changing public
policies about the role of Federal and state governments that
increasingly offer less support to cities that no longer shelter
the majority of the population or even the bulk of commercial
environment, on the other and, has, nevertheless, burgeoned dramatically.
Physically, Manhattan has grown a lot taller and many areas have
been significantly upgraded: SoHo; Battery Park City and the spectacular
Wintergarden at The World Financial Center, shown at the left,
adjacent to its bomb-surviving neighbor, the World Trade Center,
shown below; the clunky but funky new Times Square; the rejuvenated
57th Street corridor; the spunky spankiness of the new Third Avenue
and the new Water Street; and dozens of pretty interesting, if
not great, new buildings, and scores more that have been handsomely
Lots of mediocre or
uninspired new structures have risen on sites formerly occupied
by graceful, if not fine, buildings. The history of the city's
development is strewn with many sad tales, but it has grown miraculously
and mightily. Today's towering midtown, for example, used to be
One could argue endlessly
over the missed opportunities and mistakes in the city's growth
and pine for lost Greek Revival, or Federal, or Beaux Arts swaths
gobbled up by the city's voracious builders, plotters and planners.
The fact remains that
the city has never been perfect, especially since the Civil War.
More sobering is the realization of how much more needs to be
done not only to keep it functioning but also to improve it.
Aesthetic quibbles aside, however, the
city is more staggeringly impressive than ever. In the last quarter-century,
the amount of office space in Manhattan has just about doubled
and the skyline has not only gotten thicker but also has broadened
Perhaps more importantly,
the design quality of new construction has greatly improved after
the post-World War II nadir and while the art of urban design
has still not become a science it is more appreciated, which does
not necessarily imply, of course, that past errors will not be
Graffiti has eased and
subways are newer and cleaner and cooler and many stations have
been dramatically redesigned and improved, although far more are
in desperate need.
If one notes the double-decker
buses run by some sightseeing companies and some new streetlamps
fashioned after old styles one might think New York was really
getting its act together.
All of New York City
is not a boom town, but neither is it a ghost town.
Savvy and saucy, maniacal
and menacing, ragged and raucous, dizzy and dazzling, insane and
imperfect, New York is chaotic and anonymous, but it remains the
international capital of the world and the quintessential city
of dreams and dramas, of finance and fun.
It is still "a
Well, everything is
up-to-date in Kansas City and San Diego and Charlotte and Dallas
and some things seem to be getting better in New York: Donald
Trump has got some financing and started construction, albeit
with some flaws, for his riverfront project on the West Side,
another major new riverfront project, Queens West (formerly known
as Hunter's Point), is moving ahead on its second tower
across from the United Nations, tourism is up, the preposterously
onerous taxes on hotel stays has been somewhat reduced and business
improvement districts are visibly sprucing up some important areas.
In the fall of 1998, Trump announced he would build an enormous
tower, which he will call Trump World, on First Avenue across
from the United Nations. How he plans to circumvent a prohibition
against erecting buildings taller than the United Nations Secretariat
Building in the immediate vicinity has puzzled many civic activists.
(The business improvement
districts, which finance local improvements and services through
property fees, have quickly proven to be very effective, even
though they introduce a new bureaucratic layer and infringe, at
least theoretically, upon the jurisdiction of community boards.
The recent suggestion that residents near Central Park pay a special
assessment for its upkeep was quickly abandoned, however, emphasizing
both the existing high tax burden for New Yorkers and mixed feelings
about such special assessment districts, which raise many difficult
issues about rich and poor areas and balkanization. The B.I.D.s
are finally being publicly scrutinized as it has dawned on some
that that they wield great power. They epitomize the ideals of
privatization and decentralization, but they also interrupt/interfere
with established patterns of elected representation. Like community
planning boards, they are very exciting experiments, but they
come with some growing pains.)
The depression of the
early and mid 1990's may have eased somewhat for some New Yorkers,
but technology and human culture and interests have not stopped
churning and their pace of change has created very major challenges
for New York and all cities. Just a few years ago, a New Yorker
could note with a sense of alarm the mounting competitiveness
of regions and cities most manifest in the new, emerging urban
and suburban silhouettes across the nation. These newer, smaller
communities had fewer existing problems to conquer and could quickly
adopt new stylish urban appurtenances such as sports stadia, convention
centers, airports, mass transit and skyscrapers.
But their quantum mass
still seemed puny by New York standards.
How then do you explain
the Swiss Bank deciding to relocate to Stamford, Conn., only a
couple of years after moving into its own brand new skyscraper
behind Saks Fifth Avenue and overlooking Rockefeller Center? Even
more disturbing was the report last year that the Equitable Life
Assurance Society of the United States, one of New York City's
most historically important corporations, was contemplating a
similar move after only a few short years in its sprawling, art-bestrewn
complex on Seventh Avenue and 51st Street. Equitable decided to
stay, but to downsize, significantly.
Meanwhile, of course,
companies use the threat of leaving the city to extract outrageous
concessions. CS First Boston, the investment bank, for example,
recently got $50 million in concessions from the city just to
move to the Madison Square area from midtown. Such financial boondoggles
for the rich, and First Bostoners are not known to be poor, is
total lunacy, and arguments that past city generosity to other
financial giants justifies such a policy is sick. (Of course,
the other side of the coin are inane attempts to raise revenues
by pursuing taxes on pensions of former New Yorkers who have found
the city's and state's tax laws just not worth the pain of staying
How can the city stem
the continued corporate exodus and downsizing? Where are new jobs
coming from as technology makes location more and more irrelevant
for most businesses and personal entertainment more and more private?
Cities take a long time
to mature and a long time to change. They grow incrementally and
not always predictably. Wouldn't it have been nice if all the
Federal and Greek Revival townhouses of Greenwich Village and
Chelsea were still standing, or all the marble mansions along
"Millionaires' Row" on Fifth Avenue, or if all the white-brick
"monstrosities" that pass as apartment buildings had
not been built, or if the old Penn Station were still there? Imagine
if all the corporate towers of Park Avenue were sprinkled throughout
the Lower East Side.
Of course, such nostalgia
trips and fantasy runs are idle play, but not really. People do
get fed up and decide not to take "it" anymore. It is
the nature of New York City to always be in transition, but change
is certainly not always for the better. Sic transit gloria. One
could argue that the fantastic commercial development of the city's
suburbs may have been necessary to spur the city once again to
be dynamic and competitive and not rest on its laurels. The suburbs,
of course, have grown so mightily that they now have their own
momentum and some of the city's problems, but hardly all.
Can the city recover
its magnetism and vital esprit? Can it once again become an economic
juggernaut? Can it have yet another renaissance? Can it cope humanely
with the homeless and AIDS and illegal aliens and drugs and even
Yes. But it ain't going
to be easy.
Pollyannas, we're not.
Utopists, we're not.
Even with all its blemishes
and flaws, outrages and frustrations, New York City is still magical,
especially at night. It is the world's most spectacular stage
set with the world's most fascinating and colorful actors. Above
all else, it is the true test-tube of democracy where dreamers
and damners and doers breathe the same air and sweat.
In the urban battlefield,
some losses are acceptable and some are not, some compromises
are inevitable and some are not, some plans are valid and some
It is the civic dynamic,
in the end, that really counts. That dynamic is a mix of pride
in accomplishments, prudence in management and a prejudice for
progress. That dynamic thrives in the plenty of choice and fuels
the individual prospect. In the real world, of course, few have
sufficient choices and most prospects are dim, if not dreary.
While community activism
very often makes for better neighborhoods, it does not always
make a better city.
A no-growth, anti-development
avalanche of huge proportions has become a very major and difficult
political reality in many parts of the city and has often exerted
a disproportionately large and political influence on many key
land-use issues such as location of locally undesirable uses,
zoning and landmarks. The impassioned activists have been extremely
successful in dramatically rewriting most of the regulations regarding
development in Manhattan and many major areas of the other boroughs
to thwart the very kind of development that actually defined New
York as a world-class city.
Incredibly, the city
that captured the world's imagination as the most romantic and
thrilling high-rise environment has so bureaucratized, minimized
and restricted imaginative and creative design as to have become
a reactionary and anachronistic backwater of modern design at
a time when architecture is one of few arts still vibrant.
While no one is crying
out for another Robert Moses, the quality of most typical major
projects in the city in recent years has been less than inspired
and pedestrian (in the worst sense).
Occasionally, of course,
some good projects and ideas emerge, but often with very mixed
results. Take 42nd Street. The humongous 42nd Street Development
Project was created to rid the blight of the Times Square area
and that tawdry street. The original design was severely attacked
by many groups, correctly, and it was radically redesigned. The
original prospect of a Rockefeller Center-type redevelopment of
the lower end of Times Square was largely responsible, along with
a major rezoning, for the explosion of new projects in the vicinity.
The 42nd Street project, however, got incredibly bogged down in
lawsuits and continued opposition from a very determined group
of civic activists, and not only has not been built, but it also
has been postponed almost indefinitely. The Walt Disney Company
confused things by deciding to try to open a facility on the block
and for a few months recently a very interesting temporary art
project for the street transformed it into a very amusing streetscape.
Forty-Second Street may even get a new trolley, albeit one with
very ugly overhead cables rather than the charm of a Tooneyville
Trolley or at least a San Francisco cable-car. While it is laudable
that something is happening, unfortunately "something"
does not automatically mean that it is good. The sad fact is that
42nd Street and much of the surrounding area has been a terrible
embarrassment for the city for decades and while the new office
towers in and around the theater district have improved the general
ambiance, the Great White Way ain't much of a smashing showcase.
Still, their newness and massiveness come as a almost pleasant
surprise to some visitors who have been away too long.
The city has been in
a traumatized state of design paralysis for a very long time and
the media is responsible for lack of timely, in-depth coverage
Not too long ago, a
group of residents on Ninth Street off Fifth Avenue are, not surprisingly
in these times, protesting double-decker tourist buses coming
down their street, conveniently forgetting probably that Fifth
Avenue used to be two-way and that all the city's wonderful double-decker
buses used Washington Square Park as their open air terminal!
But time is of the essence.
The city is slipping and cannot rest on its laurels. Much of the
problem, of course, is money and the city will never have enough,
of course, but an important part of the problem is image. The
city has been humbled and exhausted by raids and defections. Morale
and pride are low and the troops listless and worried about reinforcements
The ruins of the city
may appall some and may not be perfect, but by anyone else's standards
they are still mightily impressive, an asset devoutly not to be
Squalor still abounds,
however, and that still rankles.
The unthinkable happens,
but also the unexpected and New York needs to do the unexpected.
It needs to remind everyone that the shock of New York is that
it works and provides opportunities, more than any other place.
It is real and cyberspace fantasies are only temporarily enticing.
Attitude and esprit
de cité and morale are intangibles, but very real.
What really makes New York special is its contagious energy and
excitement. When one thinks about how much garbage is produced
and usually removed each day, how many megawatts of electricity
are used just to help cleaning people in offices late at night,
how much ink is applied to the city's newspapers, how many dishes
are washed at each night's banquets and balls, how many financial
transactions are made, how many waiters are undertipped, how many
varieties of pasta and crudités are offered, how many new
potholes waffle the streets, how many bon mots are missed, how
many pigeon fanciers and sidewalk artists there are, how many
treasures lurk behind blank windows, so much pain, so much wrenching,
so much energy, it's kind of thrilling being on the cut, ragged
edge of civilization.
How's the city doing?
That depends on which side of the bed you got out of this morning.
Attitude, hey, is important.
More than ever, the
city is a cauldron far too big for any suburban kitchen and its
stew is redolent with exotic flavors.
It is multicity. It
is the unfinished, but unforgettable city, the traumatic but dramatic
city, the city of strangers and symbols, the city of the jostled
and the jaunty. It is not cybercity, though it is the hypercity
of hype. It is exhausted but exuberant.
Has the city gone to
the dogs? No. But it does love Puppy, Jeff Koons's marvelous botanical
sculpture, shown above, that was installed at Rockefeller Center
for the spring and summer of 2000.
It is New York and the
rest of the world isn't.