Buy land, the old saw goes, they’re not making any more of it. But what if they were? What if they added new acres to lower Manhattan?Charles Urstadt, the engineer who headed the landfilling for Battery Park City, proposes to dump sediment from Lower New York Bay into the Hudson along the lower Manhattan shoreline, creating 40 to 50 acres of space for residential and office buildings and parks.
Community Board 1′s Waterfront Committee has scheduled a public discussion of the idea for tomorrow. Given its benefits, it’s surely worthy of serious consideration – at the least.
Alas, critics have been so closed-minded and shrill in their opposition, there’s not likely to be much of a debate.
Which is truly a shame.
Because it means that, for no good reason, the city will continue to ignore a truly rare opportunity to foster growth.
In August, Urstadt wrote on these pages that creating new space would:
n Help relieve stress on public transit.
n Cut down on vehicular traffic.
n Boost the city’s housing stock and its supply of office space, and add parkland.
n Generate new revenue for City Hall, to be used to maintain not only the new parkland, but other parks, too.
“It’s economically desirable,” Urstadt says. “We can create that land for $75 a foot. Depending on what you put on that land, it’s worth $2,000 to $3,000.”
Indeed, the logic of growing the city by adding waterfront drove landfilling for 350 years: Today, 14 percent of Manhattan is reclaimed land, by one estimate; as much as 25 percent of Downtown is landfill.
Battery Park City, 92 acres of land built from dirt dug up for the World Trade Center in the ’70s, is the most recent of Manhattan’s horizontal expansions.
And, by all accounts, it’s a huge success: It not only provides housing for 9,000 residents and 9 million square feet of office space, it’s also thrown off $1.4 billion in revenue for the city – much of it used for low-income housing.
And that’s on top of the money it’s spawned to pay off its own construction costs and keep up with maintenance.
Why are New Yorkers reflexively against repeating such success?
Because of . . . fish.
“Building in the river is ruinous public policy,” says the Clean Air Campaign Executive Director Marcy Benstock, who in the ’80s played a key role in killing a highway plan for the West Side out of deference to striped bass. The site Urstadt is eyeing, she says, “is a crucial habitat for sustaining fisheries.”
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried calls Urstadt’s idea “outrageous” – and illegal.
But as Urstadt notes, critics can’t cite a single fish that’s been so much as inconvenienced by the Battery Park City landfill.
Maybe that’s the problem: His idea makes too much sense. No doubt it’ll be, uh, sleeping with fishes soon enough.