Meeting the needs of Downtown’s growing population

Three years ago we were amazed to learn just how much Lower Manhattan’s population grew in 10 years. The boom was over 40 percent, representing the fastest growth anywhere in the city, according to the City Planning Dept., which analyzed the 2000 Census.

We knew Lower Manhattan was growing fast, but until we had the hard numbers, it was useless to fight for the additional services Downtown.

We were considerably more surprised last week, when we reported that an analysis of housing growth by Community Board 1 suggested that Downtown’s population is expected to grow by about 75 percent between 2000 and 2005.

This growth comes despite the economic and emotional devastation of the 9/11 attack on Lower Manhattan. Thousands fled Lower Manhattan after the attack, but they were replaced by thousands of others – many of them younger New Yorkers attracted to the residential grants administered by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

The C.B. 1 analysis is sound. It identifies specific apartment buildings that have been built or converted since 2000 and occupied. It identifies specific residential buildings under construction or slated to go under construction soon. It ignores less concrete, longer-term plans, such as Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s idea of creating new residential neighborhoods along Fulton St. and south of the World Trade Center site.

This boom is happening and short of the bottom dropping out of the real estate market, it will continue.

C.B. 1 has been methodically tracking the numbers for some time and produced its latest report only after the School Construction Authority said in effect, “prove it” when the board said it needs another school.

In this week’s paper, we report that the P.T.A. president of P.S. 234 is pushing to expand the Tribeca school which expects to have 100 too many students this September. A new private school, which will eventually go from 6 –12 grades has found a likely home along Greenwich St. just north of Canal Street for next year.

We wish we could say Downtown is the only place with crowded schools. It is a problem all over the city, but it is important for slow moving bureaucrats running the schools to recognize the fast growing population in Lower Manhattan and evaluate its needs when making the difficult decisions of determining where to build the city’s next schools.

Downtown is also one of the most park-starved areas in the city. The most obvious places to make significant improvements are along the waterfront. The Downtown-Alliance - C.B. 1 plans to improve the East River waterfront would be a boost to Downtown and should be acted upon quicker. The Lower Manhattan section of the Hudson River Park deserves something as good as its Village neighbors got recently, and it is incumbent on the Hudson River Park Trust to do all it can to get the rest of the park built.

More cultural and retail amenities are also needed. This week’s announcement by the L.M.D.C. that they have begun to search for cultural institutions around the world to move to the W.T.C. site is welcome. We would have hoped that more businesses such as Borders would have recognized by now the tremendous potential of opening in Lower Manhattan, but we have little doubt that as our population continues to grow, it will be the supermarket and gourmet food operators who decide next to come down who will get a leg up on those competitors who hesitate.

The Downtown population boom is welcome, and as much as anything else will contribute to the revitalization and rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. However, the growth will be short-lived if the schools, parks and services necessary to support a growing residential presence are ignored or delayed. C.B. 1 has made a strong case for the growing needs of Downtown, and pressure must now be kept on government planners to respond.


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