FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On

As is often the case, a spurt of media attention on one event leaves any deeper issues virtually untouched. It was just over a month ago that Amazon announced it was pulling out of its highly subsidized deal to build one of its second headquarters in New York. Three billion in city and state subsidies and goodies like its own personal heliport proved to make much of the public too curious for Jeff Bezos’ liking, rather than attempt any further negotiation and despite the spurned Governor Cuomo’s shameless and pathetic attempt at begging him to reconsider, Bezos set sail, no doubt on the lookout for brighter red carpets. Meanwhile, activists celebrating that victory ceased to realize that an even greater monstrosity was emerging just across the river from the proposed Amazon location.

If one looks back at the three terms of former mayor Michael Bloomberg choosing their worst feature could be challenging. From ‘stop and frisk’ to the rezoned waterfronts now brimming with luxury apartments well beyond reach of the workers who used to toil there to the arrogant orchestrated overturning of term limits with massive personal spending for reelection campaigns, the choices are plentiful. Yet perhaps Bloomberg’s legacy can be best encapsulated by the recent opening of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s Westside. Billed for over decade as the ‘largest real estate deal in American history’, built by Related Companies and Oxford Properties, two of the largest developers in the world, and with some nonunion building labor, the 28 acre complex when completed sometime in 2035 will hold 13 buildings including apartments, millions of square feet of office space, a performance arts center, a seven-story mall, a hotel, and the requisite celebrity chef-owned restaurants.

The target audience is quite obvious: one can purchase a haircut at Sally Hershberger’s salon for $800. While roughly ten percent of the apartments are labeled subsidized, in New York vernacular this often means they’re still out of the price range of the majority, most one bedroom apartments with views of the Hudson will go for over $5000 a month, a night at the new Equinox Hotel runs for $700. Related CEO Stephen Ross himself is moving to the $32 million penthouse at 15 Hudson Yards. The mall features the likes of Dior and Fendi, and New York now has its first Neiman Marcus. Michelin chef Thomas Keller serves high priced foodie dishes at his TAK Room not far from where Estiatorio Milos, one of the city’s priciest seafood restaurants, is setting up shop. As for the common folk it seems their experience will largely be limited to some open space and Thomas Heatherwick’s ghastly collection of staircases called The Vessel.

The masses can take some consolation from the fact that they’re making a large contribution to the effort. The $3 billion in subsidies that drew the public opposition to Amazon pale in comparison to the nearly $6 billion that analysis by the New School found have been pumped into Hudson Yards. The city spent about $2.4 billion to extend the 7 train one stop to Hudson Yards (the fact that building one station, which has been plagued by leaks and mold since it opened, cost as much as it did should probably draw more scrutiny than it has), set aside $1.2 billion for four acres of open space, and spent $200million to buy up the air rights from the MTA (the state agency that runs New York’s subways and buses). Then there has been $281.2 million for things like sewers, $75.5 million for the performing arts center with retractable walls currently known as The Shed. When revenues from the development predicatively fell short of projections the City Council stepped up with $359 million in interest payments on bonds.

Such is a small price to pay for a long desired goal of elite planning to extend the Central Business District westward. If there is any consensus among New York’s vast media it is that the neighborhood pre-Hudson Yards was ‘undeveloped’. What else would blocks of warehouses, factories, and a train yard be labeled? Still can any argument be made that what New York, with its burgeoning homeless population and housing crisis, needed, especially on MTA property the city could have fought hard for, was a Neiman Marcus and waterfront hotel? As for all the office space, the New School’s research reveals that 90 percent of Hudson Yard’s office tenants are transfers from Midtown being lured by lucrative tax breaks. There’s an assortment of hedge-funds and private equity: Blackrock, managing $5.98 trillion, will write off $25 million in state tax breaks by adding 700 jobs at Hudson Yards. SAP, KKR, Wells Fargo, and L’Oreal USA are moving in, in line for $5.5million in tax breaks, as are CNN and Warner Media- these from another Related project Time Warner Center.

On the bright side Hudson Yards does face challenges. Say what one will about Manhattan, even in its ultra-wealthy phase, vertical malls, with the unfortunate exception of the aforementioned Time Warner Center, tend not to prosper. Another multi-billion dollar project conceived in post-9/11 triumphalism, Santiago Calatrava’s narcissistic $4 billion Oculus, train station mall combo, has struggled to find a purpose since it opened. For all the hype Hudson Yards is served by only one subway station and is three long blocks from Penn Station. Its design is that of a glorified suburban office park, completely in contrast to Jane Jacobs’ urban ballet. Free admission to The Vessel has a two week wait at the moment but how long can climbing on 2500 steps be a novelty? Planners seem to be counting on the famed High Line emptying out into Hudson Yards. While the High Line, the elevated park on the old New York Central rail stub, has become a worldwide icon, as far as New York goes it would hard to find a greater tool of gentrification.- the surrounding neighborhood went from a working class holdout to one filled with multimillion dollar buildings designed by world famous architects. Yet it is questionable how much business the High Line tourists could drum up at Hudson Yards.

However there is the eerie shadow of Rockefeller Center, certainly in terms of sheer real estate acreage, Hudson Yard’s predecessor. While during the holiday season hordes of tourists flock to take selfies by the ice skating rink and, perhaps for reasons beyond comprehension, the tree lighting ceremony has long been a national TV event, the fact is as soon as the Rockefeller Family signed the $3.6 million annual lease with Columbia University, then the property’s owner, in 1928 it wished to be rid of it The opening of Rockefeller Center ran smack into the Depression. The original plan to move the Metropolitan Opera there fell through and with tenants in the U.S. in short supply the family turned to international prospects, including trying to rent ‘Il Palazzo d’Italia’ to Mussolini and part of the International Building to the Nazis (it has long be part of city lure that the sculpture of Atlas across from St Patrick’s Cathedral bears a striking resemblance to Mussolini). The public never got to set its eyes of Diego Rivera’s mural however Attilio Piccirilli’s ode to fascism stood until the U.S. entered the war.

Obviously not content to be sunk with a bad investment, much like the present day Hudson yards area the Rockefeller Center area was considered ‘undeveloped’, the Rockefellers spent decades, with considerable success influencing the redesigning the city around its property from getting a subway along 6th Ave and moving office building from the East Side to the West Side in the 1980s, finally unloading a majority stake of Rockefeller Center on the Mitsubishi Estate in 1989. Mitsubishi too had an immediate bout of buyer’s remorse, defaulting on their mortgage in 1995 in the midst of a real estate crash brought about by that heavily subsidized office building boom of the 1980s.

If the time comes it isn’t difficult to imagine what planners and its owners would do to ensure the success of Hudson Yards. Whatever the exact details no doubt it will be a continuation of a long policy of serving the needs of capital, using gentrification, along with its subsequent displacement, as a default strategy of urban planning. One may be tempted, as far as New York goes, to ask how much more damage can actually be done. However, the answer remains quite scary.

It was back in 1996 when the great radical geographer Neil Smith published his classic The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. Revanchism, from the French revanche, meaning revenge, dates back to 19th century Paris. Opposed to the liberalism of the Second Republic, along with the debauchery of the monarchy, and of course the uprising of the Paris Commune, where the working-classes took over from Napolean III’s defeated government and controlled the city for months, the revanchists were set on restoring bourgeois order in the city of light, hunting down Communards with a vengeance who had ‘stolen’ the city. In a sense such has been the fate for many American cities for the last three plus decades, since capital ‘came home’ again. The frontier remains open still.

More articles by:

Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail