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East River Waterfront Dreaming in Midtown

[Renderings courtesy www.doegoe.com]

One of the great looming urban planning questions for NYC is what's going to happen at and around the ConEd Plot, aka Ground Zero North, the lot just south of the United Nations plot along the East River in midtown. As we've known for awhile now, where that massive ConEd plant once stood, developer Sheldon Solow plans an array of office and residential towers designed by starchitects Richard Meier and David M. Childs. But what the layout of the site will end up being is anyone's guess, as is the question of how the site will interact with evolutions underway at the U.N. site to its north.

To spur the urban planning dreamer in all of us, this past weekend the Municipal Arts Society hosted a charrette (archi-speak for "a really long conference-thing") to ponder the possible use of the East River waterfront viz. the changing neighborhood. The goal: to envision an open, usable waterfront along the East River from 34th to 63rd Street. Above, one dreamy outcome of the vision.


Before... [photo credit: Giles Ashford]


... and in the (at this point purely hypothetical) after.

From the MAS press release:

The charrette was organized because Manhattan has a rare opportunity to open up public access to Midtown’s East River waterfront, create a new park and complete a greenway connecting the Battery to Harlem. The state is planning to rebuild the midtown section of FDR Drive, the former Con Ed power plant site is being redeveloped, and the city is planning to facilitate the expansion of the United Nations campus and create an adjacent waterfront esplanade. The charrette explored how the projects could be planned together and result in an open waterfront from 34th Street to 63rd Street. "By realigning and lowering the 42nd Street exit ramp off FDR Drive, the architects hit upon the concept of ‘elevating the people, not the traffic,’” said Frank E. Sanchis, III, MAS senior vice president. “They proposed a grand urban terrace above the FDR overlooking the river from 38th Street to 42nd Street. They also proposed a ‘forested hill’ surrounding a existing ventilation shaft at 42nd Street and proposed creating a glowing six-story ‘pylon’ which would anchor a ferry terminal, restaurant and vertical public space, and provide a means to descend to the river.”

The landscape architects included Ken Smith, designer of the rooftop garden at the Museum of Modern Art and the elevated plaza at 55 Water Street; Ricardo Scofidio, designer of the High Line and the redevelopment of Lincoln Center; Matthew Urbanski, designer of Brooklyn Bridge Park; Margie Ruddick, designer of improvements to Queens Plaza and a master plan for downtown Trenton; Kate Orff, a principal at SCAPE Studio and a protégé of Rem Koolhaas; and Brian Jencek, a principal at Hargreaves Associates.

Above, an overview of the land in question from the project charrette. We'll have more dissection of this document to follow, which has a lot to say about how to subvert the FDR Drive. But for now, dreams aside, it's worth noting that these plans are totally nonbinding; MAS hopes that they'll influence the policymakers and developers, a goal which might prove rather dreamy itself.
· Charrette Presentation: Midtown's East River Waterfront [MAS.org]
· Residents push to open up East River waterfront [amNY]
· Ground Zero North Update: ConEd Demo Underway [Curbed]
· Coming to the East 40s: Ground Zero North [Curbed]