Tag Archives: Hudson Yards

The back yard is gentrifying

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

A routine Sunday errand in our Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City–to purchase a few indoor plants at the local nursery–became a lesson in the fast-moving gentrification of all parts of Manhattan. The nursery, Chelsea Garden Center (at 11th Avenue and West 44th Street looking north, above) got its start in 1984 about 20 blocks south of the current location; it has moved numerous times as rising rents and development pressure became too much for this type of small business. It had been located in Chelsea, East Village/Bowery, and the Meatpacking District; all of these had been bywords for affordable or even cheap living, but are now filled with luxury condos and boutique hotels. The far west side of Hell’s Kitchen would have seemed even 10 years ago to be fairly immune to the extreme gentrification seen in other neighborhoods, but no more. The nursery is finally giving up on Manhattan and is moving to Brooklyn; the landlord will not renew the lease and is instead selling to a developer which will result in another high-rise similar to the recently built one seen in the background of the above photo.

A new west side

A new west side

A lot of the development pressure is coming from the nearby, massive Hudson Yards project, where multiple towers, thousands of housing units, a park, and millions of square feet of office and retail are displacing rail yards, warehouses and old tenement apartments. The picture above shows the first pieces of Hudson Yards under construction in the background, with the MTA‘s new transit stop–the terminus of the 7 line–to the right in the foreground (New Yorkers, ever- vigilant about occupying public space, are holding a protest unrelated to the development).

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

The new subway stop is the City’s gift to the developers; the far west side has long been underserved by transit which has, until recently, kept rents low and discouraged major developments: the neighborhood was just too difficult to get to. But all that has changed in the last decade or so, with people being more and more willing to live or dine further from the center of town. Above is a new 71-story luxury rental tower (the Sky) underway across the street from the nursery. Its steep rents and plush amenities are the opposite of what the gritty neighborhood was known for a few short years ago.

Sky Pool

The new Hell’s Kitchen

Above, a rendering of the pool terrace at the new rental building. In Birmingham, most (though not all: see Park Place downtown) of our new residential and mixed-use developments are displacing underused warehouses, surface parking or filling long-empty historic buildings. Rarely are local, family-owned businesses extant in these locations, and new people moving in generally add to, rather than displace, existing populations. Not so in many areas of Manhattan; the musicians, artists, and working class that populated Hell’s Kitchen are hard to find anymore. It’s like a hyper-luxury veil is being draped across the entire island. Real estate has always been vicious and kinetic in this town, but the current pace feels historic as the average sales price for a Manhattan apartment has reached almost $2 million.

But how do we carry the plants from Brooklyn

But how do we carry the plants home from Brooklyn

With the nursery leaving Manhattan (above, the announcement posted at the counter), there will be no other true plant store within walking distance from our apartment. OK, not a huge deal–we can still travel another 20 blocks, but it begs the question: where are all the thousands of high-rent occupants coming to the neighborhood going to get houseplants? The employee ringing us up (also pictured above), when posed that question, smiled and said “Well, you can always go to Home Depot.” Of course he was being sarcastic, but the loss of small neighborhood businesses as bank branches and chain drug stores proliferate is causing Manhattan to be just a little duller, and a little less diverse, with each passing year.

The big city

Yard of dreams

This post looks at last week’s trip to New York, focused on midtown and financial district locales. After many years of waiting, the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project on midtown’s far west side at the Hudson River is underway (above at 10th Avenue and 3oth Street), with developers working on a first phase of mixed-use office, housing, and retail constructed in leased air rights over MTA‘s vast rail yards.  This ambitious plan includes an extension of the “7” subway train, thousands of new housing units, and large amounts of public space. A virtual no-man’s land (perhaps the last such area in Manhattan) promises to be completely transformed. You can see the development proposal here.

All about the brand

A few blocks north the same developer (Related Companies) is already leasing their MiMA building (above on the corner of 10th Avenue looking east along 42nd Street). Their marketing campaign for this high-end building (originally slated for condos before the recent economic downturn) was so clever that many New Yorkers have started referring to this far west section of midtown as “MiMA”–which means “Middle of Manhattan”. Perhaps a bit wishful to think of 10th Avenue as the “middle;” but with the massive Hudson Yards project underway, the center of gravity will shift somewhat, making this moniker more plausible.

A contrast in scale

The more well-known midtown includes 6th Avenue (above, at 49th Street) where massive towers were set back from the street back in the 1960’s as a result of new zoning laws that allowed greater heights if the developer provided “public space” along the street. The famously bleak, wind-swept plazas that resulted were, at least in the location above, a little less bleak due to fountains, benches, and landscaping making the best of a very anti-urban condition.

A little world of its own

Pocket parks are scattered across Midtown–many again a result of zoning compromises that allowed developers certain concessions in return for providing public amenities. The one above provides a passage between 49th and 48th Street a block west of the 6th Avenue plaza shown previously. In many cases, pocket parks can be underused; pedestrian traffic patterns, adjacent uses, and other factors aren’t studied properly before locations are selected. In Manhattan, given the high density and almost constant foot traffic on countless blocks, these spaces have a better chance of success.

Hey, the taxpayer didn’t fund it

Above is the entrance to this pocket park from 48th Street–sort of Chinese garden gateway reinterpreted. You pass under a thick transparent tube inserted through a concrete wall with water rushing down the full length of the wall, splashing the ceiling above you, and falling into a trough below. It’s a wonderful effect–you really feel like you’re passing from one realm into another. The expense of this sort of feature makes one reflect on the “only in New York” budgets these spaces can have.

Welcome back, downtown skyline

All the way downtown in the Financial District, One World Trade Center (above) is finally nearing completion. It’s an understatement to say the downtown skyline has been missing an anchor since the September 11, 2001 tragedy; this new tower is a welcome symbol of New York’s resilience. It comes at a time when lots of other things are happening in this oldest part of Manhattan, whose vibrant, mixed-use streets of 200 years ago became dominated by finance, banking, and law firms (at the expense of shipping, housing, and saloons). In the last 10 years, however, more and more office buildings have been converted to residences, new apartments have been constructed, there are more restaurants, schools, and groceries—and many thousands more people are living here and walking the streets (about 56,000 compared to 15,000 at the time of the attack).

Occupying the park

Partly as a result of the influx of new residents, the area’s parks have been renovated: people from neighborhoods further north flock south with their kids to enjoy the Financial District–an activity that would have been unheard of 10 years ago. Above is City Hall Park, which at 9 AM Thursday was filled with office workers, mothers with strollers (and a few nannies), and tourists.

The proportion of foot to auto traffic is remarkable

Compared to the relatively new (1811) street grid further north, the older street pattern in this neighborhood is full of curves and diagonals, with narrow roadbed widths (above is Fulton Street looking east from Nassau Street). This tends to confine auto traffic to certain widened arteries, with pedestrians often having free reign in the streets retaining original dimensions.

A colorful concession to the public realm

Across from the new One World Trade Center is 200 West Street, the global headquarters for Goldman Sachs. Choosing this location in part to demonstrate strong commitment to the World Trade Center area after the tragedy, the 43-story building opened in 2009 and was designed by Pei Cobb Fried with other design firms handling different portions of the interiors. Huge murals were commissioned for the numerous lobby spaces, designed for the enjoyment of passerby, including “Sunrise, Sunset” by Franz Ackerman above (you can read a New Yorker review of 200 West here).

Serving titans of finance, among others

One of the most interesting features of 200 West is the adjacent Conrad Hotel linked to the office tower by a promenade (above). Goldman acquired the former Embassy Suites, renovated it into a sleek, contemporary hotel more in keeping with their own image and clientele, and created the promenade. The Applebee’s lease was not renewed; several Danny Meyer restaurants were brought in. Both office workers and nearby residents are delighted. It’s an urban amenity win for everyone.

Yes please

Note the new apartment towers directly across from the promenade (and Shake Shack) above. This neighborhood is becoming very interesting. And tastier.


While Goldman Sachs famously has no corporate logos or company signage of any kind on its building–even the security guards wear anonymous black suits–100 Gold street, a bland 1970’s building a few blocks away, had an image problem. The wrapped address signage (above) does a good job announcing the building to the public, without distracting from the lines of the original design. This is a simple, but sophisticated addition.

Is this for real?

Finally, no trip to New York is complete without visiting the High Line park–shown above around 22nd Street looking north. On a picture-perfect Friday lunchtime, families are playing in the grass, locals and tourists are eating sandwiches, an artist is painting at an easel—and new office and apartment towers frame the stunning views. It’s an urban vision that’s so beautiful, it’s hard to believe it was an abandoned, weedy, rusty set of tracks just a few years ago. Railroad Park, anyone?