First, here are the moves:
1. Build the country's largest convention center and a casino in Willets Point, Queens.
2. Move all convention business from the Jacob Javits Center to Willets Point.
3. Tear down the Javits Center.
4. Use part of the now empty Javits site for a new Madison Square Garden that will connect to the waterfront.
5. Extend the tracks of the 7 train all the way west to serve the new MSG and potentially across the Hudson River into New Jersey.
6. Connect the James A. Farley Post Office to the new MSG with a park and mixed-use development over the Hudson Yards, connected to the High Line Park.
7. Move Amtrak services from Pennsylvania Station into the Farley Post Office, now to be known as Moynihan Station.
8. Tear down MSG.
9. Rebuild the rest of Penn Station, connected to the adjacent post office building, on the now empty MSG site (above ground?) with a new tower exploiting the air rights above it.
|Google Maps View.|
One of the arguments for convention facilities in Queens is "neighborhood revitalization!" This is absolutely ridiculous. These people talk about revitalizing Willets Point in the same exact breath as they mention the Javits Center, and just look at that neighborhood. The convention center has been there for twenty-six years, and what else is there as a result? I couldn't even tell you, because as soon as I'm done at the Javits, I hightail it out of there. It's miserable. Aside from car dealership after car dealership, I think there's a gas station and a strip club. And isn't there some kind of weird little tiki hut restaurant where no one ever eats? If that's "vital," then I'll take suburban sprawl, please.
|Photo courtesy Mets Talk.|
And what of the Willets Point business owners? Will they be fairly compensated for their property? And what if it's a disastrous failure? An active permanent residential community arguably would be a crucial ingredient for its success. But who on earth would ever want to live there? There are numerous fundamental flaws with the site, many of them insurmountable, others built right into the redevelopment plans.
|Photo courtesy Cook & Son Bats.|
You might find a few interested people who are involved with the Mets or Citi Field, officials from the US Open, a couple from Queens Theater in the Park, Queens Museum of Art, the Hall of Science, or the park itself. A few of the Mets players might grab up apartments just to use when they're in season. You might get out-of-town baseball teams or tennis players reserving a couple apartments for intermittent dwelling. You might get a good number of people of lower incomes who work at any of these places, or the hotel, casino, convention center, and surrounding stores and restaurants. I suspect the vast majority of these people, regardless of their economic status, are not going to want to live and work in exactly the same place. Mostly you're looking at a community of transients.
As far as quality of life is concerned, this could very easily be a bizarre flow of nothing but tourists for the majority of the year, none of them staying for more than a couple of days at a time. Many people working conventions will just want to play a few slots at the casino and go to sleep at the end of the day. If they're going to go out at night, they'll go to Manhattan. The US Open lasts only thirteen days and comes once a year. Eighty-one times a year for several hours at a time, the entire area will be completely overrun by a thousand or two loud, drunken Mets fans hooting and hollering up and down the streets before and after home games. The whole idea of living in a place like this sounds perfectly awful.
I actually live in Queens. If even I think the Javits Center is more convenient than Willets Point, that must be saying something. What will this do to convention business? As it is, I've seen the trade shows shrink year after year in recent memory. Less exhibitors can afford to do them, less exhibitors think they're worth the time, effort, and expense. I strongly suspect moving them out to a little peninsula next to Citi Field is not going to help matters.
New York's water quality is possibly the one thing that could benefit most from this transformative project. Flushing Bay, which is sort of tucked into an inlet between the East River and the Long Island Sound, is both geologically ripe for stagnation and fed by run-off from a particularly industrial area and all the pollutants it generates. Something very similar to this is currently being discussed concerning the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, which I'd like to explore in more depth in a later post. For sure measures could be taken to improve the water quality around Willets Point without new development going up in the middle of it. But without that development, on the one hand one might ask, "why bother?" On the other hand, without the development, how would you ever generate the interest, and more importantly the funding, to undertake such a thing?
|Photo courtesy Metropolis.|
The major problem with the Javits is its location. The appearance of a new subway station for the 7 train could potentially enliven that neighborhood, but any substantial change as a result of that alone would surely take at least a generation to manifest. There is no question in my mind that the park proposed over Hudson Yards and the northern connection to the High Line will significantly improve this area, if the results of the High Line in the Meat Packing District are any indication.
The Hudson Yards project creates a whole different problem for the Javits Center, unfortunately. As some journalists have noted, the Javits building does nothing if not completely block midtown from the Hudson River. Anyone who has attempted to walk around it from the back to its front doors will know exactly what I mean. It's huge, and every side of it is a towering, inaccessible warehouse and huge, impervious metal garage doors except for the front entrance. With a park to its east, it becomes even more obvious that it should not be there. The visceral response, standing in the park looking west, would automatically have to be "remove that."
|Photo courtesy Trip Holiday.|
When I first heard about moving Penn Station into the post office, I was mostly for it. The old Penn Station was breathtaking, but it's just gone. Nothing is going to bring it back. Converting the post office, by McKim, Mead, & White (1910) as was the old station, seemed like a nice compromise to me. Certainly the redesign will have to be sensitively handled so that it doesn't destroy the building. The respect I have for Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill is well documented. I think I can trust them to do a fine job.
|Photo courtesy Empire State Development Corp.|
The good news is that the building will still be used as a post office. But the irony here is that, since it will still be a post office (if perhaps with its facilities reduced in size), the new Amtrak facilities won't actually be taking advantage of the grand staircase in front. The stairs will still lead to the post office. Passengers instead will enter from small portals on either side of the stairs and descend to a newly glass-enclosed space in the center of the building. One might be tempted to wonder how much this will truly solve the dire circulatory problems of the present station.
|New York by Gehry, ©2012 Ryan Witte|
This enormous shifting of some of New York City's biggest and most important facilities presents an almost infinite number of possibilities for greatness, beauty, and improved infrastructure and amenities. It also threatens the city with an equal number of pitfalls, quicksand, and potential for economic, aesthetic, or pragmatic debacles. As I mentioned in regard to JFK Airport, it's when faced with something like this that one might actually pine for someone as visionary and ruthless as Robert Moses (before the megalomania and insanity) who would swoop down with a single-minded, comprehensive strategy. We see it all over the World Trade Center site; endless committees and mismanaged appeals to popular consensus (as necessary as they should be in principle) could prove fatal to a reworking of the urban environment at this scale. One can only hope as deeply as possible that all the greatest minds will be brought on board. In the end, if we're lucky, we may get something the world has never seen before.
©2012, Ryan Witte