urban renewal and Union Square
One of the topics I find really interesting is New York City's processes of urban renewal, as it comes back from the blight of the 70s and 80s (click on the famous image to the right for background), and expansion, as its population rises rapidly to record levels. The New York Sun has an article today about the history and development of Union Square.
The article talks about the processes that led to a revival of the neighborhood, from rezoning in the 1980s, leading to a private developer taking the risk putting in condo highrises before anything else had improved, to the foodie culture supporting Union Square Cafe and the farmer's market, to NYU's expansion North and the rise of Williamsburg as a hipster locale just a short subway ride from the Square.
In 1979, architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote that Union Square "can accommodate flamboyant showoffs and it can accommodate derelicts, but not genteel matrons."
The vibrancy of earlier decades, he wrote, had died down, leaving a "dreary park" and a surrounding area that was "tawdry with no particular charm."
The area is now a development mecca, with new buildings and conversions happening continually. (Including the ongoing foodie-central nature of the neighborhood, with a Whole Foods, a Trader Joes, and (my favorite) a Garden of Eden all within a few blocks of the Greenmarket and several top-notch restaurants.)
The chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail division, Faith Hope Consolo, said rents around Union Square have tripled in a little over a year. Storefronts that used to rent for about $100 a square foot are now going for $250 to $300 a square foot, comparable to parts of Midtown and SoHo, she said.Of course, with any rapid development, there are problems and growing pains, and the article points those out too.
Here's a map from New York Magazine:
An architect and a board member of the Union Square Community Coalition, Leo Blackman, said the area's rebirth is commendable, but it is taking a toll on the neighborhood, particularly the park.
"The demand on that little piece of green has really doubled," Mr. Blackman said. "The park is absorbing more people with more commercial activity on the southern edge.... From a business point of view, you want to jam people in the park... At a certain point it becomes unpleasant and less of a resource for people who live in the neighborhood."