Skip to main content

Lower Manhattan: The Changing Skyline and the Challenges of Community

The skyline of Lower Manhattan is changing. A 76-story shimmering skyscraper at 8 Spruce Street, the tallest residential building in the city, is nearly finished. The skyscraper known as One World Trade Center, or 1 WTC (formerly Freedom Tower), rises a little more each week, gradually asserting itself into the new visual consciousness of the city. It's clear that a reconfigured built environment is emerging downtown, but what is unclear is how the new buildings, imposed on the old Dutch city and built in the aftermath of September 11, will affect a nascent sense of neighborhood in this part of town.

8 Spruce Street Revisited

In yesterday's New York Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff offered a glowing review of Frank Gehry's design for 8 Spruce Street, calling the building "the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building went up 46 years ago." Writing about the building this past October, I similarly praised the building: "Eight Spruce Street shows some respect, acknowledging the city's classic skyscraper tradition with just the right amount of flash." While many will praise the building in terms of architectural style, it's important to also discuss how the highest of the residential hi-rises will affect the life on the street. Several questions remain to be answered. The residents of the building will be people who can afford luxury market housing, but how will their wants and desires affect the neighborhood? Will they take part in the social and economic life of downtown, or will they remain aloof and lofty, importing their goods and sending their kids to school elsewhere? It's fascinating to note that the Gehry building sits on top of two critical institutions of social life, a school and a hospital, but how these groups will interact, if at all, remains to be seen.

8 Spruce Street during a snowstorm, January 26, 2011

Access Restricted: A Conversation on "Unbuilding"

In a fascinating conversation this past Wednesday (2/9/2011), part of the series Access Restricted hosted by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), cultural journalist Jeff Byles pitched questions to architecture critic and CUNY professor Michael Sorkin about the future of our shared urban spaces. The setting was the lobby of the Woolworth Building, the "cathedral of commerce" built in 1913 and designed by Cass Gilbert. Normally off-limits, the lobby served as a reminder that even our most cherished icons often limit access to the public.

inside the Woolworth Building lobby, February 9, 2011

Musing on the topic of Lower Manhattan, where he is now a resident after years in Greenwich Village, Sorkin reflected on the transformation of downtown into what he called "a complete community." Defining a strong neighborhood as "a place where one satisfies daily requirements within walking distance," Sorkin emphasized the importance of the street. He proposed taking fifty percent of existing streets back for pedestrian, park, or agricultural uses and even dismantling FDR Drive. An advocate for turning empty lots into green space and converting concrete spaces into plots for sustainable agriculture, he humorously proposed, but with some seriousness, "Let's put the orchard back in Orchard Street." Among his proposals for alternative transportation, Sorkin advocates extending the idea of mixed-use development to the street, India-style, mixing modes of walking and motoring with people on foot "on top of the heap."

Discussing the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, Sorkin expressed his disappointment with the current planning. He said the city lost an opportunity, born out of "a tragic misperception," to commemorate the site with a park and a free speech plaza. Now, he said, these fourteen acres will be "heavily surveilled" and "completely commercialized."

Overall, the discussion at the Woolworth Building underscored the need for much more sustainable urban planning, one that encourages a pedestrian city and self-sufficient neighborhoods, along with mass transit, especially in light of the world's rapid urbanization.

One World Trade Center, half way to the top

Walks to One World Trade Center, In Progress

One World Trade Center continues to rise, and residents and workers downtown have no doubt noticed its presence in the skyline. On December 23, 2010, the Port Authority announced that the building had reached the 52nd Floor, the half way mark to the top of the building. As reported by Manhattan User's Guide on January 28, the Port Authority has created a website inviting people to upload their own pictures of the building.

Looking out my balcony in Greenwich Village toward the south, I have been watching 1 WTC slowly take its form in the skyline of Lower Manhattan. On a wintry walk a couple of weeks ago, I took the train down to Battery Park and then walked around the shoreline up to the site. 1 WTC, designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, is just one of several places to be finished on this hallowed ground, a site that will include other towers, the WTC Memorial with its pools in the footprints of the two towers, a visitors center, and a transportation hub. 1 WTC will feature several public spaces including a vast public lobby, restaurants and an observation deck high in the sky.

What happens on the street...who knows?

There are many ways to walk to see 1 WTC in progress. A stroll down West Broadway south will take you to the foot of the building. A walk down Broadway itself to near City Hall and then walking west also provides a good approach. Walking down Broadway also affords good views of 8 Spruce Street.


View Walks to 1WTC in a larger map

For the walk depicted in these pictures, take the subway to Battery Park and walk the shoreline west and up and around to near the World Financial Center. Walking there with snow on the ground is optional.



See also the site of the World Trade Center (Port Authority) for progress, plans, photos, and maps.
The site of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council will post a link to a recording of the Access Restricted conversation when it becomes available via artonair.org.

Related post: The Guided Tour: A Visit to the World Trade Center Site and the Statue of Liberty.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.









Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his

Walking on Snow

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ For the better part of this new year, snow has been either on the ground or in the forecast. In the city landscape, the streets look enchanting for a day or so and then devolve into a dirty mess. This sort of snow is unappealing for an invigorating walk. A snowy path in Inwood Hill Park The forest, on the other hand, has managed to stay enchanting throughout each bout of winter weather. The presence of owls and hawks, bright red cardinals and sweet chickadees, and brown squirrels and black squirrels transform the woodlands into a fairy tale. An Eastern Screech-Owl at home in the winter forest I've spent much of the whole pandemic year, going back to March 2020, in the woods of Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. While I have been accustomed to walking through the park in spring, summer, and autumn, I've never managed to engage with the deepest parts of the forest when a lot of snow was on the ground. Last winter there wasn't much snow anyway. Eastern Screech-Owl

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Purposeful Pastimes in a Pandemic

The disruption of everyday life in this pandemic can lead to confusion, immobility, or a lack of concentration. I know this has been true for me. Certain activities that in normal times would be effortless and fun now seem suddenly too hard or irrelevant. For me, this includes writing anything longer than a paragraph. I also painted a small scene of the streetscape out my window but it took me over a month to finish it. I’ve now identified a handful of activities that are easy for me, and I’ve managed to rationalize them by finding meaning in them as well. The first, of course, is walking. While staying home is the preferred course of action during a pandemic, a solitary walk in a nearby park is acceptable within the current guidelines. I find these walks in nature absolutely necessary for physical and mental wellbeing. Taking pictures of birds can also be fun, educational, and meaningful. While the Great Egret, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Cardinal are common in these

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit