Creating New Neighborhoods in NYC

The landfill set to become Battery Park City.

The landfill set to become Battery Park City.

 

This week the NYC Department of City Planning announced a study that will help forge a new neighborhood in the Bronx. This followed on the heels of an op-ed by Charles Urstadt arguing in favor of filling in the Harlem River to create new land area. CHPC went into its archives in search of some precedent for this daunting—and for some, mouth-watering—urban planning challenge.

Just two months after humankind first walked on the moon, the master plan for an entirely new New York City neighborhood was published. The Battery Park City Master Development Plan, a 25-page document, laid out the creation of “approximately 91 acres of land under water of the Hudson River.” The planners of Battery Park City, like today’s city administrators, had one eye fixed on the diversity of the new neighborhood. “The Residential Area consists of approximately 79 acres and will contain approximately 14,100 apartments. One-third of these apartments are to be low income, one-third middle income, one-third conventionally financed units. The units will be thoroughly mixed throughout the project to create economically and racially integrated community without enclaves of high or low rent housing.”

Official “Planning Criteria” form a large part of the Master Plan. First on the list is “vehicular circulation,” followed by considerations for pedestrians and car parking. (Access to public transit does not receive a mention.) “Protection of views” of the Hudson receive special protection, particularly “unobstructed views of the Hudson River from eye level on Rector Street at Broadway and from eye level on Church Street through the World Trade Center when built.”

Interestingly, the plan gets into more detail regarding square footage of housing and building heights than other topics. Several components of the plan echo the grandiose vision for what Battery Park City would become: “The objective will be to contribute toward a pyramidal form for the skyline of Lower Manhattan and to provide a transition between the extreme heights of the World Trade Center towers and the much lower towers in the general vicinity.” It calls for the tallest buildings to be “70 or 80 stories” near the twin towers.

In an ostensible attempt to allow the organic growth of communities on this uber-planned strip of land, planners designated four quadrants of approximately the same size with the names “Neighborhood I,” “Neighborhood II,” “Neighborhood III,” and “Neighborhood IV.” Each had a prescribed number of square feet to be used for “community shopping,” “neighborhood shopping,” and “civic facilities.” The image you can find here displays that particular plan.

 

Detail of the Battery Park City Master Development Plan

Detail of the Battery Park City Master Development Plan