clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NYC real estate and architecture experts reflect on 2018’s biggest moments

The year that was, and what to look forward to in 2019

Thanks to the Amazon HQ2 deal, Long Island City emerged as a major piece of the year’s development news.
| Max Touhey

There’s no such thing as a boring year in New York City, with efforts in urban planning, new construction, and politics continually pushing things forward.

In 2018, a progressive wave of young politicians—led by Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with a group of challengers to the breakaway IDC state senators—set the tone for conversations around housing, gentrification, and inequality. The city kept building, from the waterfront park at Williamsburg’s Domino Sugar megaproject to the observation deck soaring 1,000 feet above Hudson Yards.

But the city also grappled with ongoing issues like the crumbling subway system, a lack of affordable housing, and the continuing homelessness crisis. Some progress was made—like the hiring of Andy Byford to get the MTA on track and the reduction of homeless New Yorkers—but other crises deepened. (See: the controversies around NYCHA.) And the late-breaking news of Amazon’s impending arrival in Queens introduced a whole new debate that’s guaranteed to continue in the years to come.

To take a look at the year that was, we asked more than a dozen people in real estate, urban planning, architecture, and transit to offer their thoughts. Alongside their observations on 2018, they’ve got a few predictions for what next year may have in store.

The East River emerged as a key development player.

“The silent hero for NYC’s architecture and design in 2018 is the East River. This year included the arrival of the NYC Ferry to more locations, finally achieving acceptance from New Yorkers as a viable option to travel from one borough to another. Already, the ability to easily commute by water has started the conversation of [the waterfront as] the sixth borough—this means that access to the waterfront must be considered when designing for public space. Imagine a future in which we could use our river to swim, as if we were in Paris or Berlin? We need to invest in more large-scale public ideas in the year ahead; with this in mind, +Pool’s campaign to make the East River swimmable seems like a welcome addition.” —Claire Weisz, principal-in-charge, WXY Architecture and Urban Design

Yes, there were transit improvements in 2018…

“[This] was another difficult year for subway and bus riders, but it did offer New Yorkers reason for hope that they’ll be able to rely on transit again. A reform-minded leader, Andy Byford, took the helm at NYCT and delivered an ambitious plan to fix subway and bus service, including a long-overdue commitment to make the subway fully accessible. Byford’s Fast Forward plan was especially good news for the more than 2 million daily riders of the slowest buses in the country and for anyone who can’t navigate stairs, a population that currently has access to only a quarter of subway stations.” —Tabitha Decker, deputy executive director, TransitCenter

Fair Fares [funded by City Council this year] is a really innovative approach to battling poverty that gives half-priced MetroCards to people living at or below the poverty line. It’s going to open to the public next year, and I’m really excited about it.” —Corey Johnson, New York City Council speaker

The L train shutdown will stop service on the line in Manhattan beginning in April 2019.
Scott Lynch

...but the L train shutdown is looming in 2019.

“The MTA has an incredibly lofty challenge ahead of itself once the L train shutdown takes place in 2019: It needs to restore the ill-fated Canarsie Tunnel within 15 months; provide appropriate and sufficient transit service for displaced riders that isn’t terrible; and finish the project without going over budget. All this while simultaneously working to fix and modernize the rest of the subway system.

“This will be a defining moment for transit because, if successful, the MTA will restore some of the public trust that it has lost in recent years, and help prove to riders that better transit service is actually achievable in the near future.” —Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator, Straphangers Campaign

The New York state legislature’s blue wave will have big implications for NYC.

“Democrats [took] control of the [state] Senate for just the third time since World War II—and just like that, everything that had once been written off as impossible has all of a sudden become within reach. The rent law loopholes, which have submerged the rent stabilization system into a dark black sea of fraud, can now be closed; and our broken campaign finance laws, which have fostered a culture of real estate corruption, can now be reformed. If there are few guarantees in life, then there are no guarantees in Albany. But this is our best shot.” —Aaron Carr, founder, Housing Rights Initiative

New York’s employment hubs will continue to evolve.

“It’s clear that a new generation of entrepreneurs are producing in NYC, so the design process will require figuring out how to make affordable projects that solve for competing interests and outmoded systems. Here, action is currently in Brooklyn’s industrial districts, but it can already be seen spreading to the Bronx and Long Island City. Sunset Park’s new District Plan, the MadeinNewYork Campus at Bush Terminal, interest in vertical industrial buildings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a projected injection of funds into the Garment District are all leading indicators, as is the selection of LIC’s Anable Basin by Amazon for its HQ2.” —Weisz

The Hudson Yards megaproject reached several milestones in 2018, and will debut some of its public spaces in 2019.
Max Touhey

After a productive year, Hudson Yards is on track to hit several major milestones in 2019.

“This year, Hudson Yards saw two key milestones. First, this spring, work began on the observation deck at 30 Hudson Yards. The deck is made up of 15 primary sections, each weighing between 35,000 and 102,000 pounds—this modular construction method allowed it to be assembled remarkably quickly. The second milestone occurred this summer when 30 Hudson Yards topped out at 1,296 feet. With KPF’s 10 Hudson Yards open, this milestone marked the structural apex of KPF’s presence at Hudson Yards.” —Marianne Kwok, director, Kohn Pedersen Fox

It was a big year for New York City’s parks…

“We made a splash with the launch of our Cool Pool pilot program that revamped five intermediate pools in underserved communities; we took a walk down memory lane with the discovery of thousands of images of city parks captured by New York Times photographers who were temporarily hired by former Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis during the New York newspaper strike of 1978; we survived a distemper outbreak that affected raccoons in Central Park by taking a proactive approach and working closely with our wildlife experts and partners at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to disseminate information to the public about the virus and its effects; and the vibrant Mandarin duck floated its way into our park and into the hearts of New Yorkers and bird enthusiasts from all over the world.

“These stories reflect how hard we have been working to increase equity and access, keep parkgoers safe, and position parks as a place where memories are made. My favorite story is how we successfully completed more than 30 Community Parks Initiative (CPI) projects in the past year.” —Mitchell Silver, NYC Parks Department commissioner

…and a big one for historic preservation, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“Over the past year, we have designated 501 buildings and sites, including 12 individual landmarks, three historic districts, and one scenic landmark. I am particularly proud of designations such as the postmodern AT&T Building, which marked a turning point in the history of 20th century architecture; the iconic Coney Island Boardwalk, as much a part of our culture as it is a part of our city’s history; and the Central Harlem-West 130th-132nd Streets Historic District, which reflects the rich social, cultural and political history of Harlem’s African-American community. To illustrate the significance of this district, we launched an interactive story map for the public to explore its rich history.

“We also engaged in a comprehensive public process to streamline permit review and approval for everyday work on designated properties. In January, after a year of outreach to stakeholders, we launched a proposal to update and amend our rules to increase ease of use, transparency and efficiency for all members of the public, from homeowners and small businesses who file for permits with LPC, to community boards and preservation groups, who weigh in on these projects.” —Sarah Carroll, Landmarks Preservation Commission chair

Domino Park in Williamsburg, which opened in 2018, was planned and built with resiliency measures in place.
Nathan Kensinger

Climate change was a defining feature of urban planning, and will remain so.

”Without question the landmark moment of the year for the architecture and planning professions, if not every profession, was the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicating that climate change is happening at a far more accelerated pace than we thought. We simply aren’t doing enough to reduce the carbon footprint of our cities.

“It is my hope, if not quite prediction, that we pass congestion pricing, legalize electric scooters, and learn lessons from the closing of the L train as to how we more equitably use our streets for mass transit like the BQX and for bikes and pedestrians. In conjunction with this new infrastructure, we must build more green affordable housing and office space to make a city that is more physically and socially mobile.” —Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

After years of sky-high pricing, the luxury market “came down to earth” in 2018.

“2018 was the year the luxury market came down to earth in New York—particularly in the highly saturated luxury ($5M+) condominium market segment. Prices have come down as much as 30 percent year over year, and days on the market have significantly increased. Most of the year has been what we at Warburg call a ‘brokers market,’ an environment in which both sellers and buyers feel uncertainty or are acting out of alignment with what the market is dictating.” —Clelia Peters, president, Warburg Realty

Expect home prices to keep dropping in 2019.

“My prediction is that prices still have a ways to go before they level out. My guess is seven to 14 percent, depending on the property in question. Once sellers who understand the market come with asking prices of where the market will be at that time, they are going to set new comps for the rest of the market and then everyone will follow.” —Alexander Boriskin, agent, Douglas Elliman

The co-living trend isn’t going anywhere.

Co-living has been most prolific in Brooklyn, but will continue to expand in Manhattan and Queens. Hudson Yards’ huge commercial space and Amazon’s HQ2 in Long Island City will call for smart, density-conscious and transit-accessible solutions for working professionals coming to these neighborhoods. Co-living is that answer.” —Brad Hargreaves, founder of co-living startup Common

Webster Residence, a supportive living facility for formerly homeless New Yorkers, developed by Breaking Ground and opened in 2018.
Copyright and Courtesy of COOKFOX Architects

2018 brought a welcome decrease in homelessness…

“The City found a decline in the number of homeless people out on the streets this year, according to the HOPE Count. HOPE is not a perfect measure, and is only a point in time, but this drop is largely consistent with what our street outreach teams are seeing in the field, and real-time data that we track on where and how often our teams are engaging with homeless individuals.” —Brenda Rosen, president of nonprofit developer Breaking Ground

...but the affordability crisis means homelessness remains a major issue.

“A confluence of factors highlighted by the affordability crisis in our City means that far too many people in New York will continue to experience homelessness in 2019. This crisis demands more affordable housing with appropriate support services. And for nonprofit builders, access to land can be scarce and funds are always tight. We’ve seen incredible investment from the city and state in supportive housing programs, but federal changes continue to be a question mark.” —Rosen

Housing nonprofits face an alarming reduction of funding in 2019.

“Ten years ago, New York state was able to collect millions from banks for their role in the foreclosure crisis, and that money has gone to good use, funding free nonprofit housing and legal assistance for vulnerable New York families at risk of losing their homes. However, foreclosures remain high and auctions are on the rise in New York, and the funding to help families navigate the complex process will run out on March 31. That’s why a coalition of 167 advocacy organizations, businesses, and unions are calling on Albany to dedicate $20 million in funding to continue vital housing counseling and legal services in a campaign called Communities First.” —Christie Peale, executive director, Center for NYC Neighborhoods

The Amazon HQ2 bombshell will have major real estate implications.

“Amazon’s decision to move to Long Island City validates New York City as a global leader in creativity, innovation and economic power. The fact that Amazon is choosing a borough outside of Manhattan marks the culmination of a long-term city and state economic development strategy to diversify our economy throughout the five boroughs. The addition of 25,000 jobs, many of them high-paying jobs, will benefit the entire city. Thousands more jobs will be created to develop the Amazon campus and surrounding areas.” —John Banks, president of REBNY

Protestors In New York City Hold ‘Day Of Action’ Against Amazon HQ2
Opponents to Amazon’s HQ2 deal with the city and state protested in 2018.
Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Opponents of the HQ2 deal will keep up the pressure in 2019.

“The resistance against Amazon is just getting started. The more New Yorkers learn about the deal, the less they like it. For years, our community [in the 26th District] has been fighting together for better infrastructure and transportation in Queens and we’re not going to let the city and state give away $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for Amazon without a fight.” —Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, representing Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside

And the New York City Council will be addressing inequity in 2019.

“We can pass congestion pricing to ease congestion and create a new stream of revenue for the MTA; we can pass real statewide rent reform measures to complement what we at the Council are doing to protect tenants in the City; we can finally update our ridiculous electoral system to make voting as easy as possible for all New Yorkers; we can stop the unfair and unjust criminalization of marijuana that has had such a negative effect on so many people, but especially on communities of color; we can finally pass the Reproductive Health Act; we can take a shot at single-payer healthcare—I could go on forever!

“The bottom line is New Yorkers should be proud of themselves for what we accomplished this year, and excited for the possibilities of what we can do together next year. I know I am!” —Speaker Corey Johnson

Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards: A guide to the megaproject’s biggest buildings


See the incredible views from Hudson Yards’s sky-high observation deck


Waldorf Astoria condo conversion launches sales

View all stories in NYC Development News