Ask anyone who has jogged, biked, skated or strolled along the Hudson River lately what their least favorite stretch is and you might be surprised at the response. It is not in the Meat Market area, where lamb and cow carcasses get unceremoniously dumped into refuse bins early each afternoon. It is not Gansevoort peninsula, where dozens of garbage trucks idle and queue at the beginning and end of their route. It is not the West 130s in Harlem where the North River Sewage Treatment Plant sits on the shore. No, the smelliest, most offensive stretch of the Hudson River Greenway is in Chelsea, right beside what is being called the Hudson Yards.
At West 30th Street sits the heliport. Helicopters â€“ like most fossil fuel burning engines â€“ do not run at peak efficiency at lower speeds. While landing or idling on the waterfront tarmac the smell of hot, unburnt fuel is overwhelming. The hundreds of takeoffs and landings here each day may seem to constitute a dense arrival and departure pattern for tourists and high rolling commuters, but the stifling reality is that the air quality along this stretch of the Hudson River Greenway is possibly the most unhealthy and certainly the most offensive one can find the length of the waterfront along the entire Manhattan shoreline of the Hudson.
Slightly more than four blocks north is Pier 76, home to the city’s tow pound.
This stretch of the Hudson River, then, is home to two unfortunate waterfront uses, neither of which makes use of the water in any way.
Sadder still, the city and the state do not have any plans to change this. At the same time that both city and state are pulling out all the stops to redevelop the West Side, attract the 2012 Olympics, and expand the convention center, it is unfathomable to think that more than a billion dollars in public money is to be spent to redevelop 11 blocks along the Hudson River with no real plan to improve the waterfront.
The greatest sea-change in urban living in New York City in the last 30 years is the transformation of urban waterfronts and waterways into exciting new public spaces. From the Gowanus Canal to the Bronx River, these once-derided waterways are now synonymous with grassroots success. And there is no revival to rival the rescue of the Hudson River along the west side of Manhattan, where the collapse of the Miller Highway over thirty years ago opened the door for the removal of the detritus of commerce, parked and towed cars, crumbling pier sheds, and miles of chain link fence separating the hundreds of thousands of workers and residents in the adjacent communities from the most famous river in the United States.
But this is not happening in the area alongside what is being called, ironically, the Hudson Yards. The only thing the city is doing for the Hudson River in its plans for the Hudson Yards is stealing the river’s name. This stretch of Hudson River waterfront will not be the beneficiary of either the city’s investment of $600 million in the Hudson Yards, nor the state’s plan to expand the Javits Center. In fact, these two plans together in their present state will simply perpetuate the non-planning that has plagued so much of the city’s waterfront development in the last thirty years.
The neglect of the Hudson River in the Hudson Yards plan is the most short-sighted aspect of what is being promoted as a visionary, long-range plan. The city’s own map for the Hudson Yards area makes clear that the study deliberately left out the waterfront. As the Environmental Impact Statement for the project makes clear, the western terminus of the project area is not the river, but 12th Avenue. Despite the fact that images used to promote the Sports and Convention Center illustrate glorious river views and an active waterfront dotted with sailboats, ferries, and water taxis, the plan for the stadium itself includes merely building an elevated walkway over the West Side Highway to connect to Hudson River Park.
If this is visionary planning then I would rather take the proposed $600 million in city funding for the Hudson Yards and trade it in. For this awesome amount of money, one could complete Hudson River Park ($225 million), Brooklyn Bridge Park ($150 million), Sunset Park Waterfront Park ($25 million), Harlem River Park ($50 million) the South Bronx Greenway ($50 million) combined. With the extra $100 million we could create a few hundred street-end parks around the city in any of the places where few such large-scale waterfront opportunities still exist. The beneficiaries of all these investments may not be season ticket holders, of course, but we all must remember that the beauty of this city is not that not everyone can afford a skybox â€“ it is that most of us don't want to be in one.
Carter Craft, an urban planner, is director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.