Will Hudson Yards developer swap promised public green space for walled off private park?

January 10, 2020

Image by Timothy Schenck; courtesy of Related-Oxford

Related Companies is gearing up for the second phase of Hudson Yards—the Western Yard—but there’s uncertainty about what exactly the developer has planned. To balance the addition of another batch of towering skyscrapers, the Western Yard promised to open itself up to the public with a new school and accessible, High Line-adjacent green space. Now Related appears to be considering walling that part of the development off with a 700-foot-long structure “that would overshadow the High Line, accommodate a parking garage and help make the site more like a quasi-gated community,” as the New York Times reports.

Plans for the Western Yard (which spans the area from 11th to 12th Avenues between West 30th and West 33rd Streets) were submitted as part of the city’s environmental review process and showed the remaining tracks paved over and open green spaces (designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz) creating a connective network among the towers that will inevitably rise. “This was the image sold to the public: the yard as accessible, hospitable and open to everyone,” architecture critic Michael Kimmelman writes in the Times.

In recent private meetings with community officials, Related has pushed the idea of elevating the yard deck to accommodate a parking garage underneath. In this scenario, “the site would no longer decline toward the river but rise up, as it moved east to west, creating an immense wall, some 700 feet long, just next to the High Line and towering some two stories above it,” as the Times describes. This would obscure public access between the High Line and the yard and reinforce the perception of Hudson Yards as a wealthy enclave within the city.

“We remain committed to building a public school, 50 percent open space (a zoning requirement), community space, and fulfilling all of our obligations to the city as part of the existing plan,” a spokeswoman for Related told the Times in an email. “As with phase one of the project, connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods and the High Line will be critically important.”

The proposal may be preliminary—and will ultimately require approval by the City Planning Commission to move forward—but many sources Kimmelman spoke to were already familiar with and explicitly against it, even calling it a betrayal of “what public officials negotiated a decade ago,” as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did.

“Related’s proposal to build a 720-foot-long, 20-foot-high concrete wall to cut off the High Line from new open space is an absolute disgrace and violates the original plan approved by the community board,” said State Sen. Brad Hoylman. “No company has benefited more from the High Line than Related, which has used the High Line to sell luxury condominiums and populate its mall with customers. Now they want a private garden for their residents? The last thing New Yorkers need is a wall.”

“We thought the whole point of the original zoning agreement was to have a visual connection so that you could see the Western Yard’s lawn from the High Line to let people know it was there and built for them,” Robert Hammond, executive director and co-founder of the High Line, remarked.

“Hudson Yards is already considered elitist,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer added. “People wonder, is that for me? Getting people of color to utilize these places is hard enough. This is the worst sort of planning.”

Brewer and other local leaders and city officials intend to organize opposition to the proposal. “We want a public space that announces itself as public and makes the public feel ownership,” said Burt Lazarin, chairman of Community Board 4, which represents the area.

[Via New York Times]


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