Searching for daylight between development plans
By Geraldine Lipschutz
Lower Manhattan, early on, was in itself a city of industry and commerce. Its growth seemed natural, if rational. Early Dutch, Colonial and post-Revolution housing slowly moved Uptown and to the other boroughs, giving way for the worlds greatest commercial center to rise. The growth seemed to delineate residential from commercial, and eventually manufacturing. And there seemed a rationale; that its growth would be channeled up, not sprawled out, and not so intrusive as to cross the bounds into what would become various and distinctive residential neighborhoods developing north, and beyond the Brooklyn Bridge.
Thus Downtown soon sprouted higher and higher buildings, those famous skyscrapers, which endowed the area with a distinguished skyline, rivaling no other in the world, with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center becoming the seeming apex of its growth. As each historical era passed, Lower Manhattan changed, but the changes still seemed planned and sensitive, even to the degree that real estate development was confined within the dimensions of former cow paths that eventually became paved streets. And sunlight was preserved, and parks designed to respond to the human element for respite, peace and quiet. Perhaps balance was the maxim.
Today, Lower Manhattan has become a conglomerate of commerce, finance and housing. But it also seems awfully confused about what it will become in this post-9/11 era. Rising from the ashes after such an epoch tragedy has led to a competitive real estate frenzy which, left to its own devices, could saturate the area with unmanageable density, absence of order, loss of distinction, and every man for himself. One could even suspect that Goldman Sachs is unsettled by this confusion.
Buildings that are so close, windows are at arms length of the next buildings windows. An intrusion? An invasion of privacy usually not tolerated in the business world, or acceptable in apartment dwellings.
On John and Cliff Sts. just such an apartment house was built on a sliver of land. This kind of construction can be the forerunner of alleyways and skylights as was the style in New York when tenements were built to make room for the influx of immigrants and thus slums came into being. No channel for the passage of air and no space for the sun.
At Southbridge Towers, a state regulated cooperative where I have lived for almost 35 years, it is so landscaped that there are trees, grass and flower beds in as much abundance as fits in the area. The nine buildings are all apart from each other giving each resident the space needed for comfort to fill every space. Mikhail Gorbachev came to Downtown Manhattan a few years ago to speak of solar energy and for keeping it green. He spoke of it as a privilege for the wealthy. That was in reference to the development he was visiting. But way back, when S.B.T. was first built over 30 years ago, a solar energy system was installed on two towers. But now, even Southbridge is threatened with more bricks and mortar as plans are contemplated to possibly build atop of one of its commercial buildings, the Footlocker and Burger King space the latest target for frenzied development that could easily cause the loss of open space, sunlight and bring added density.
The trend is that any sliver left is only an opportunity to optimize on real estate without regard for the human need for open space and sunlight. Just observe the land around New York Downtown Hospital, soon to be a 72-story structure on a sliver of land so packed with density, that its drawbacks are concealed by the exaggerated aura of a famous architect and the amenities of a public school. More shadows, less foliage and sun, ever more density.
By maintaining this endless trend Manhattan will become a hodgepodge and labyrinth of concrete, brick and mortar, not a carefully planned metropolis. Nothing will be added to beautiful architecture, nor will the land be enhanced. Clear-headed thought and planning must replace greed.
Geraldine Lipschutz is a resident of Soutbridge Towers.