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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2008 Issue

Five Visions for Manhattan SuperBlocks
Firms design five visions for New York City’s midtow landscape.

By Alex Ulam

Five Visions for Manhattan SuperBlocks

Located on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan, surrounded by tall concrete walls and chain-link fences, the two gigantic superblocks that comprise Hudson River Rail Yards constitute one of the most unwelcoming pedestrian zones in the city. A walk at any time of day past the long empty expanse of the looming walls that stretch for three blocks along 11th Avenue is disconcerting in a city known for its vibrant street life. Nor is there any nature here—even the hilly topography is man-made, and the streets and avenues are built up and over the rail yards, which occupy enormous sooty open pits jammed with tracks and trains.

However, dramatic changes are coming to this bleak area in the form of one of the largest redevelopment projects in the city’s history. Last October, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which controls rail yards, issued a request for proposals (RFP) that in addition to allowing for a whopping 12 million square feet of residential and commercial development contains strict open-space guidelines and requires that approximately 12 acres of the 26-acre site be developed as open space and public parks.

Even by New York City standards, this project is enormous. First, at 26 acres, Hudson Yards is the largest undeveloped tract of land in Manhattan—significantly larger than the 16-acre World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. Second, the scale of the buildings will be immense—the 12 million square feet of new buildings is roughly 12 times the size of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, the largest building project completed in recent city history.

Five different developers are bidding for the opportunity to redevelop Hudson Yards into a new mixed-use neighborhood. The design teams for the development proposals are some of the biggest names in landscape architecture: the Olin Partnership, Field Operations, Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architecture, WRT Planning and Design, and West 8.

The MTA is expected to select a developer sometime late this month or next. In the meantime, the agency has launched an outreach effort, which has included a display of the models and plans of the competing proposals at a storefront near the city’s Grand Central Station. Civic groups and community organizations have been reviewing plans at packed public meetings.

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