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The 1934 Plan to Fill In the Hudson River for $1 Billion

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Welcome to our newest feature, Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

New Jersey gives most New Yorkers the heebie jeebies, but there was a time when people thought the Garden State should become one with Manhattan. In 1934, an engineer named Norman Sper proposed filling in the Hudson River to create an additional ten square miles for city development. Why? "To solve New York City's traffic and housing problems, which are threatening to devour the city's civilization like a Frankenstein monster." Modern Mechanix reported the wild proposal, calling it "the world's eighth wonder." The plan would divert the waterway to the Harlem and East Rivers with damns and allow for the creation of 10 more avenues and thousands more buildings. Ultimately, the $1 billion plan (around $17 billion today, according to this inflation calculator) was deemed too expensive, but that doesn't mean it wasn't possible.

Once the area was drained, Sper said we should start building our subterranean structures immediately. "Build your tunnels, conduits, mail and automobile tubes, and other subterranean passages indispensable to comfort in the biggest city in the universe as you go along." You'd plop a level of fill on top of that, upon which you could start building the new foundations and basements of buildings in the new city. And of course, this is the perfect urban planning because then NYC is protected against "gas attacks":

"Thus, below the street level would be a subterranean system of streets that would serve a double purpose. All heavy trucking would be confined to it, but primarily it would serve as a great military defense against gas attack in case of war, for in it would be room for practically the entire population of the city. If the Russians had the vision and the courage not only to build huge cities from the ground up, but to practically rebuild an empire, surely America should not be frightened at a project as big as this.Engineering experts agreed that the plan was feasible?after all, the "seemingly invincible" Colorado River had been dammed. One engineer said that the biggest problem would be "procuring enough fill, as you would have need for a tremendous volume of material to load up that valley." Modern Mechanix even thought it was financially possible: "An annual income of a hundred million dollars a year would represent a return of ten per cent on the investment of a billion dollars and engineering experts all agree that this would be only a trifle of the amount that could be realized from this great project." But as it goes with these kinds of insane things, the cost was too great. Needless to say, it's probably for the best.
· Filling In the Hudson River to Rebuild New York [Modern Mechanix]