The holiday weekend is nearly here; it’s time to catch up on all of the good reading that’s slipped through the cracks in 2019, or return to a few of your favorites. In that spirit, we’ve gathered a few of our best-loved features of the year.
These stories run the gamut, from an argument for banning cars in Manhattan to a review of the so-called “future city” at Hudson Yards to a look inside one of lower Manhattan’s Brutalist housing complexes. Ready to dive deep? Read on. (And if you’re looking for even more to add to your Pocket for the holidays, check out Curbed’s 13 favorite longreads of 2019.)
It’s time to ban cars from Manhattan by James Nevius
We keep asking: “How can we make the city more accessible to all of its 8.5 million inhabitants?” Yet the automobile is privileged by default, even as the city takes small steps to address other transit woes. If we really want to make change, we need to start with Manhattan, where a mere 22 percent of residents own cars. And instead of small steps, we need to take one big leap: ban cars.
New York City is a mall by Alexandra Lange
Sometimes, the intensive urban activity of the city is too intense. Crossing the street, opening doors, remembering which block that shop was on—these things take you out of the social space. The urban mall is an edit. The best ones I saw on my tour treated their visitors like they needed a spatio-visual break: palm trees, simple signage, one loop to rule them all.
A tale of Two Bridges by Karrie Jacobs
This quiet precinct of working-class New Yorkers morphed into a prime development site precisely because it hasn’t gotten the attention from city planners or civic leaders that’s been lavished on more obviously desirable parts of the city. Developers, however, knew it was there and have quietly been buying up land, piece by piece, over the past decade. Three of the four proposed towers would be built on these underused sites, which would be practical if the developers were not so determined to transplant the Upper East Side to the Lower East Side.
Meet Chatham Towers, the architect aerie of Lower Manhattan by Fred A. Bernstein
On a famously gridded island, where facades of glass, brick, or stone aim straight for the sky (or, occasionally, step back in orderly layers), there isn’t much room for the kind of eccentrically shaped concrete edifices for which he was known. Yet at the southern tip of Chinatown, two very Corbusian apartment towers—a pair of concrete totem poles—have been beguiling architects (and architecture buffs) since 1965.
A decade of destruction in New York City by Nathan Kensinger
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the long-term impacts of the Bloomberg era have continued to play out. Despite de Blasio’s early campaign promises to help improve the lives of lower-income New Yorkers, “reducing the vast wealth of the city’s top earners is out of a mayor’s grasp,” and the problem of income inequality has not improved. Instead, de Blasio has been accused of “being chummy with the developers he promised to hold to account.” As new development projects and rezonings reshaped the city, it also lost countless historic buildings and cultural institutions; dive bars, bungalows, churches, and even entire neighborhoods were wiped off the map.
Preserving an icon by Sarah Firshein
The rise, fall, and rebirth of the TWA Flight Center mirrors the timeline of the commercial aviation industry at large. In 1956, when TWA, under the ownership of Howard Hughes, commissioned a terminal from Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect behind the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the era romanticized as the “Golden Age of Flying” was in full swing, as were Lockheed Constellations, propliners with a capacity of less than 100. The much larger Boeing 707 came onto the scene in 1958. In 1970—eight years after the Flight Center’s completion, and nine years after Saarinen’s death—Boeing launched its mammoth wide-body 747, effectively rendering its smaller predecessors, and Saarinen’s creation, obsolete.
Law & Order’s New York was never real by James Nevius
Law & Order has become the longest-running franchise in prime-time history. The show’s most successful spin-off, Special Victims Unit (SVU), has just been renewed for a record-breaking 21st season, while a new iteration, Law & Order: Hate Crimes, is waiting in the wings for a possible 2020 debut. And while detectives and district attorneys have come and gone over the years, two things have remained constant about Law & Order: the legendary dun dun sound and New York City as a character in the show.
At Hudson Yards, the future isn’t now by Alexandra Lange
The problem of the design of Hudson Yards, the 28-acre, $25 billion development built on a platform over Penn Station’s working railroad tracks, is that there is no contrast. No weirdness, no wildness, nothing off book. The megaproject was built by an all-star team of designers, but in the end, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the corporate and the artistic.
The future of the bodega is clear by Ethan Davison
Bodegas aren’t immune to the market forces that have hammered New York’s small businesses. Higher commercial rents, massive ground-floor retail spaces, and zoning changes have had a huge impact on small businesses, shuttering more than a thousand each month and leaving a glut of vacant storefronts. The look of bodegas is also changing, with incentive programs from city agencies and nonprofit organizations encouraging store owners to shed their current hodgepodge exteriors for shiny, corporate-style glass frontage. But as local bodegas trade in their hand-painted signage and idiosyncratic look for a cleaner, updated visual identity, it leads to a question: What are we losing?
Bronx by appointment by Margot Boyer-Dry
A common thread between these businesses is their embrace of the Bronx’s culture—its history, its stylings, and its people. But as they proffer their cultural artifacts in spaces that you might as easily find in Soho, underwritten by a developer whose projects are actively driving up the neighborhood’s rents ([Keith] Rubenstein also recently established a new residential brokerage in the Bronx to fill the new units), there’s a fear that they’re packaging only the romantic parts of Bronx history to sell to new residents who have never faced hardship, and will likely displace those who have.
What the loss of longtime neighborhood bars means for NYC by Jason Diamond
Enid’s may just be one place, but it’s also part of a larger pattern. It’s one of a number of beloved casual bars across Brooklyn that announced in the first months of 2019 that they won’t be around when the summer comes. And these particular closings signal a symbolic final nail for their respective neighborhoods.