A Streets Renaissance in Lower Manhattan

Last weekend the New York Times published a nice piece about a resurgence in downtown Manhattan street life.

Optimism abounds now among developers and merchants, who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into real estate along the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan. They are counting on the district, in its next incarnation, to be not just a collection of office towers and trading floors, but also a self-sustaining residential neighborhood that will appeal to families.

Office space, now in short supply, is renting for more than it did before 9/11. Over the next several years, around 14 million square feet of commercial space is scheduled to be built, replacing the offices and stores destroyed on 9/11, according to data compiled by Cushman & Wakefield, a large real estate brokerage.

515548861_82e7788c24.jpgWith new retail, restaurants and even schools opening up, businesses are enjoying an influx of mostly well-to-do customers who are drawn to areas like Stone Street, which has been transformed from "a trash-filled alley" to "one of the liveliest social scenes in Manhattan, a slice of South Beach tucked into the financial district — minus the palm trees and bikinis."

As pointed out by the Times and noted on Gristmill, the Lower Manhattan renaissance has been aided by $6 billion in tax exempt federal bonds (and though no parking garages are mentioned, the Times piece does refer to a new BMW dealership).

Car lots aside, encouraging as the downtown revival may be, some lament that housing costs are climbing out of reach, as the median downtown household income has risen to $165,000. While a typically gloves-off debate on the ethics of "FiDi" development unfolds over at Curbed, a Gristmill commenter wonders what impact a redeveloped World Trade Center site will have on downtown as a functional neighborhood:

I don’t think it’s time for urban advocates to be declaring victory and resting on their laurels. The rebuilt WTC won’t be any better than the Avenue of the Americas in terms of walkability; the blank glassy facades, superblocks and windswept plazas of the original WTC will live on in the new plan. The base of the Freedom Tower in particular will be as deadening to street life as any suburban self-storage warehouse.

Photo: drocpsu/Flickr

  • I work downtown and I would say half of our junior staff lives within walking distance of the office. All they wanted when they were looking for a place to live was “How Close?”

    Will they raise families there? I dunno. But it’s a fun place to live, work and play. And it’s close to pretty much every major Subway line that comes through Manhattan – 12345ACQRW – which are all within spitting distance of Stone Street.

  • Hilary

    It’s also the city’s water transport hub – ringed by Waterway ferries, water taxis, and the Staten Island ferry. Oh, and you forgot the Path, which brings thousands over from New Jersey. And it’s the origin/terminus of both the Hudson River Greenway and soon the East River Greenway.

    In short, I would say it’s pretty close to perfect with one exception — the West Side Highway seems to be getting wider and worser by the day. Should have been buried!

  • Agreed Hilary – they need more points to cross over, especially as there is a tremendous amount of construction going all over the place.

  • Hilary

    Glen, “More points to cross over” are not needed. The ones that exist are rarely used (even at Chambers Street, where it leads into the main floor of Stuyvesant High School.) The lesson is that people prefer to cross even 6-lane highways at grade rather than mount tall stairs or wait for elevators. That’s why the best way to link two sides of a highway is to sink the road, if not buried completely at least partially so that pedestrians can cross a gentle bridge (the parkway ideal). Lower Manhattan was offered a chance to declined the offer to bury the West Side Highway. It was, I believe, shortsighted. The Shore Parkway bridges are about to be raised higher, I suspect, which will further sever the waterfront from the upland park and neighborhood.

  • steve

    Hilary, rejecting Westway was shortsighted? What about the environmental impact of landfilling miles of Hudson shoreline?

  • bill

    steve, i believe hilary was referring to the post-9/11 proposal to sink a few blocks of the west side highway near ground zero, not westway.

  • Wm Bailey Scott

    An interesting thought of the net:
    Religion in ancient days was the “science of the day”. It tried to explain the world and nature around man. As time went on more information came in to common knowledge. However by that time many of the understandings of the world around man became ritualized and formalized into a belief system. As this happened science grew and eventually science and religion split. In reality science and religion go hand in hand.God and science go hand in hand.
    We are alwayst tying to please God at the expense of human needs and freedoms. It is time to start treating God like an intelligent being instead of some cold hearted monster. The human condition is made worse by misinterpretations , misunderstandings and out right manipulation of the knowledge of God.
    “What we do today can affect millions down the road tomorrow”. Decisions made without thought can have extreme consequences on our society and histories. Our leaders need to do their “homework” and make decisions knowing how it will affect tomorrow. Political leaders always never think about tomorrow and always from a centered point of view. It is high time for our leaders to take responsibility for their decisions. Stick with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and we cannot go wrong. The problem today is many leaders and politicians manipulate the Constitution to meet THEIR needs at the expense of our freedoms and privacy.
    The way we worship is insane. We treat our “gods” like idiots with some of the policies in place We please these “gods” at the expense of our needs and freedoms.
    There is a lot of resentment in the Muslim faith and in all faiths because of the many social injustices done to each other though out history. This injustices have shaped our belief systems over the last several thousand years. We are still fighting over whose god is better and this crap has got to stop. We need to fix our belief systems and worry about tomorrow and stop fighting our grand parents’ problems.
    We made Saddam by choosing some pretty stupid friends in the past. Iran has chosen an insane form of Gov’t because we tore down a Gov’t and replaced Iran’s leader with the Shah of Iran back in the 60’s. This insane Shah was a real jerk and tortured his people and those he “feared” and we supported him. One of his “favorite” manner of torture was to put broken glass bottles up inside people through their rear ends. No wonder so many Gov’t’s in that area of the world do not trust us nor our belief systems.We helped to make them and we never made amends nor did we do anything to change the hearts and minds of these people that became anger with us. Again we made our beds back several decades ago and now we all have to sleep in it. The only way to fix this is to fix ourselves and our country. For starters lets back off this fascist direction we have been heading down lately.
    Don’t get me wrong. These people we are fighting and trying to defeat are awful but we made them by our lack of foresight and improper placement of our priorities and fear. Not too mention, neglecting our own Constitution.
    Ron Paul said it all during the debate the other night. In short our history “made our bed” and now we all have to sleep in it. We Americans are pissed off at this fact. It isn’t what we do or did in the past, but sometimes it was what we didn’t do or did. We made sloppy political decisions in the past and we made mistakes we did not correct. We made decisions without realizing the consequences of the impact of these decisions. We made sloppy foreign policies that are now coming back o haunt us. I never hear of how America “made it’s bed”. The media and Gov’t never say were they went wrong and never even admit there is a wrong. Its like America never made a mistake and when we get into trouble, America seems so confused as to how we did. When will America share in the responsibilities of her decisions of years past. There are some very serious skeletons in the closets that are now coming back to haunt us. How come you never ever speak of those? America wasn’t and isn’t always correct. The only way to fix this world is to share in its irresponsible political decisions of years past. We need to stop this.
    I love this country but not the jerks that are running it. Not because they made mistakes but because they never change their mistakes. We citizens are not stupid and cannot be manipulated. We are tired of the same old crap. We need a new mind set that is honest flexible and with direction. We can still be patriotic and think America great but we need to clean up our mistakes and fix them. We are just as guilty as some of our enemies and it is time for our leaders to take responsibility for their decisions and correct many of them. It is ok to be wrong sometimes. The evil part is knowing so and trying to fool the rest of us by not admitting to our mistakes and not reevaluating our decisions. That is the stupidest part. We know better and it is like a child trying to multinucleate his way out of trouble. I mean our leaders are supposed to be smarter than the rest of us but my goodness they are so transparent it is ridiculous. The American public is not stupid.
    If you really want to help, lets go back to our Constitution and let it dictate our decisions instead of trying to manipulate the Constitution and making it a mockery. The American Gov’t owes compensation to millions of Americans just for the Constitution violations done in recent decades.
    As an example. Gay marriages. No one will force people to marry gay people. Gay marriage is only for gay people. The Constitution guarantees this. This country is not about gay people nor is it about straight people but about all of us. If some people do not like gay marriage that is ok. They do not have marry one. The drug war, Gov’t created the crime and atmosphere of the black market. There is no regulation so you have unqualified people selling using. You do not have to alter your mind so please do not force others not too. There is a right time and place and that is Gov’t ONLY concern.
    We all have common denominators in our needs and sense of order in this country but were we differ, why is it one belief over another? Why not provide laws for both? We waste time and money on trying to manipulate the public to persecute others. Gov’t and the media have turned this nation into a paranoid schizophrenic anal retentive society. I just hope the rest of the world in not like America today. That would be a nightmare. Let freedom be built on individual freedoms and then as collective, instead of trying to fit everyone into one idea of freedom. This is where American law makers make their biggest mistake. Worry about management instead of dictating. You would not run a business like our law makers run our nation, would you?
    The sad thing about all this, is the way our leaders think and make decisions. That is a far greater threat to our freedoms, liberties and way of life than some crazy terrorist outside this nation.
    All the pro life people say it is un cool to terminate pregnancies but they will not put their money behind the needs that would be required to care for these “extra” people. They want and make rules and laws without realizing the consequences and impacts of their decisions.
    We are already stretched to the limit with all the people on Earth now. Why not put their resources into fixing the world so we can bring in more people to live in our civilization. We are still fighting and wasting our resources on whose god is better and on insane policies like the drug war and other projects that drain our resources. These so called pro life people want to “please God” at the expense of our needs and freedoms.
    You do not get “brownie points” from God by making it harder for other to live. Though abortion may be undesirable, they are needed in a imperfect world. God would not be so selfish to force someone to have an unwanted child. That would be very un cool of anyone to force someone a burden they are or may not be ready at this time, on to them. Believe me, God does have a back up plan for babies that are not born either by choice or by natural means like miscarriages. If you understood the physiology of the human brain, all babies and their brains are more or less the same. In spiritual terms, that means they all are a “small piece” of God. It is not until the neuron connections are established that a baby become unique. All of us prior to and after birth have brains that are similar. Look at it like this. All hard drives when new are empty, making them more or less the same. It is not until you start using your computer that makes each person’s computer different. Each hard drive becomes unique. This concept though simple, explains the same logic with respect to the human brain and spirit.
    Now don’t get me wrong. God will makes the best of a trying or bad situation in someone’s life. Let me give an example. First no baby is made with handicaps on purpose. Because the chemistry of life is so complex sometime a few molecules are mismatch or damaged. This causes “defective” babies sometimes. If a “defective baby does make it to birth without being miscarried, God can take this sad and tragic situation and make the best of it. It can teach those involved compassion, love and patience. If a woman decides to keep her child despite her trying situation and life, God will make the best of this situation. Many women that do keep their babies and not abort them, most often have their lives rich with love and blessings. However if a woman decides not to keep a baby, all that happens is the baby is returned to God to come back at another time. If what I say is not true according to your beliefs, that would make God a pretty poor planner and not very smart not to have a back up plan. It has to work this way because it would be very foolish of God and all creation not too.
    People in power and those that supposedly speak for God really need to do their “homework” and really think about the impact of their decisions. They are supposed to know better and this has me very concerned because, what else are they have been deciding that requires competent thought and thinking. Their decisions affect millions if not billions of people. So they need to be very thorough and carefully with their decisions
    Christians and other belief systems owe mankind amends for all the religious and Biblical abuses through out time and history. These abuses and horrible misguided attempts to “help God” has given God a bad name.
    Any belief system with abusive histories needs to make amends, that is if they really are people of God.
    Please wake up and get this nation’s head screwed on correctly.
    What we do not understand about the Universe, we call religion.
    What we DO, we call science.
    Thoughts and ideas IN BETWEEN we call theories.
    Logic is universal. What logic applies to God, applies to man as well.
    There is no double standard in the Universe.
    Spiritual understanding is still in it’s infancy. Just like astronomy was during Kepler’s, Newton’s and Galileo’s day.
    This brings me to a very interesting thought. You may even like it because it may be what we, as mankind have been looking for the last several thousand years. The following:
    If we are made of the same elements of the Universe, you know, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen sulphur oxygen etc… and we are “self aware”, who is to say that the Universe maybe “self aware”. A mega soul of sorts. This may very well be the God we may have been looking for.
    God Himself must follow the laws of physics, yes there are laws of physics we do not yet understand but there is no short cut otherwise why have them? We are not the center of the Universe. Believe it or not Christ does fit in here but that is another post. He does fit in very nicely through the understanding of science. He was murdered for trying to stop our stupid ways of thinking.
    Science is the heart beat of God. (At least the concepts are, the language is man’s)
    God is the “Alpha and the Omega”; the beginning and the end. A cycle of sorts. Any point on a circle is the “beginning and the end”. The big bang and the big crunch.
    GOD AND SCIENCE GO HAND IN HAND

    God works with strong PROBABILITIES, not predictions or pre planning. Otherwise that would be very unfair to God and no responsibility for man.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I have to disagree with Hilary on the subject of West Street below Chambers. There’s no reason to have that many lanes of traffic there, and a tunnel – or sinking the road – would have made it permanent. A sunken version of West Street would look more like the Cross-Bronx Expressway than the Bronx River Parkway.

    Eventually that road should be calmed to four lanes maximum. In the meantime I’m glad we didn’t get a permanent eight-lane feeder.

  • Hilary

    I saw burying lower West Street as an extension of the Battery Park Tunnel, which the West Side Highway is already a feeder for. As for the Cross Bronx Expressway, it is fortunate that it is depressed because it can be easily decked with parks, buildings, a greenway. This facilitates the capture of both water and emissions. I wouldn’t hold out hope that surface 8-lane expressways will be easily shrunk. Look at the role they are to play in the ongestion pricing plan.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Can someone explain to me what’s going on with Nassau Street? I’d always thought of it as a pedestrian-only zone, with exceptions for cars making deliveries. But for the past several weeks I’ve seen cars driving through it and parking at the curb like it was a normal street.

    It occurred to me that maybe this had to do with the WTC construction, and that cars are being diverted there because they can’t drive on Church Street. But I haven’t found any confirmation of this. As far as I can tell, the DOT just decided to open it up to cars, and the Downtown Allience didn’t object. If anyone has more information, please let me know.

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