Manhattan Mountain 01

Manhattan Mountain

Re-Imagining Seward Park Redevelopment (SPURA)

Recent news coverage for the 7-acre parcel, Manhattan’s most valuable and biggest undeveloped, a publicly owned development site south of 96th Street, has provided me the chance to contemplate many important urban issues.

Firstly, are we taking full advantage of this great opportunity to develop a vast land in the heart of Manhattan, or just limiting our imagination under current NYC zoning guidelines (which are 50 years old)? Secondly, is the hot debate over big box retailers heading to the right direction?

I believe a big idea is needed for this site.

A combination of buildings on each lots based on current zoning regulations (or minor ULURP revisions), is not enough. Conventional podium with commercial programs and tower with the residentials are no longer attractive in the 21st century metropolis. Creating unique urban features will come from the idea which breaks the boundaries of each lot lines.

The answer for the first question didn’t strike me until developing the thoughts of the second question.

Big box retailers are often regarded as something “evil” in the discussion about locality, contextual design, etc. However, I believe scraping out the introduction of big box retailers is not fair for the Lower East Side community because they not only provide a variety of choices of goods and services at the lower prices, but create jobs and stimulate local economy. Walking down the streets of Manhattan, I see lots of empty stores these days. If Lower East Side cannot claim itself as a unique destination, these phenomena may also happen there. Discount stores where New Yorkers can save money and time in shopping can be one element in making a unique destination. I believe big box retailers will function as an engine for growth and development in the region. Just as the arrival of Home Depot in some NYC regions has spurred the growth in the locals as a whole, partly because big box retailers bring more foot traffics into existing urban fabrics.

However, just having discount stores won’t be enough for making a unique destionation. Here, I imagine a gigantic park—a natural setting—as a key, dominant element of SPURA development. “Mountain” (on top of big box retailers) typology naturally came to my mind.

The Mountain will provide natural environments with the forest, a habitat for birds and insects such as butterfly. At the same time, Manhattan will enjoy activities that a metropolis didn’t dream of accommodating before: hiking, mountain biking, picnic on the hills, rock climbing, snowboarding, etc.

This will be the substantial, unprecedented public space which is car-free, noise-free and full of winds and sun. Even after big snowfall, snow will not be cleared out the day after just as ordinary streets in NYC. The residents of skyscraper residential tower in Mountain, which meets all the necessary housing requirements, will have direct access to this elevated park.

Just as Lower East Side has been a starting platform for many immigrants, it needs to import new typology of public space in metropolis: Manhattan Mountain.

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