NYT: ‘The Anti-Hudson Yards’

A year ago when Hudson Yards first opened to the public, I found myself severely disappointed. The development, over a decade in the making, was hailed by its makers as the future of what New York could be. Gleaming towers, space for commerce, public parks and transit linkages. But when the doors opened, it was quickly clear that those promises were hollow. There was no space for interesting small businesses, or entrepreneurs. You needed a small fortunate to afford the apartments. There was no space for the creative types who lend a neighborhood its character, or for those who work in the shops and buildings to make a place run. One post I read likened it to a gated suburban community. As another writer wrote, New Yorkers soon realized Hudson Yards “wasn’t for them.” 

Given my letdown from Hudson Yards, I was therefore delighted to read yesterday about a new development taking shape, Essex Market, on the lower east side. As Times critic Michael Kimmelman writes:

Even half-done, Essex Crossing, on the Lower East Side, is shaping up as one of New York’s most promising new mixed-use developments — the anti-Hudson Yards. 

A $1.9 billion, six-acre, for-profit mega-project occupying several blocks around Delancey Street where traffic barrels onto and off the Williamsburg Bridge, it replaces what had been a vast no-man’s land and gaping civic wound with new subsidized apartments, a bushel of community perks, parkland, a movie multiplex, office and retail space for local businesses and a capacious new home for the city-owned Essex Market.

Michael Kimmelman, New York Times

In other words, in contrast to the gilded towers and staircases to nowhere in midtown west, developers of Essex Market appear to be taking an approach designed to actually foster and strengthen community. From mixed income housing to space for small business, to high levels of density that keep the development walkable at human scale, they are structurally creating the conditions that enable the repeated serendipitous encounters that breed familiarity, camaraderie and a sense of place. They’re creating a lattice for community to grow on. 

It’s an approach I hope more city developers pay attention to. Human scale. Mixed income and use. Space for small business and for people to serendipitously meet. While there is no substitute for time in judging the project’s success, if Kimmelman is right, then the project certainly appears on the right track.

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