Volume 76, Number 50 | May 9 -15, 2007


Ecosystematic is the way to go

Three development stories affecting Downtown’s future are coinciding right now. It’s instructive to consider them in relationship to each other for insight on how best to proceed in shaping our community’s future.

Our recent interview with John Sexton, president of New York University, showed he indeed genuinely seems committed to a long-term strategic space planning initiative. The university is now selecting an urban planning or architecture firm as a partner to craft a 30-year growth plan. This plan will include everything from recommendations on how N.Y.U. can better use its existing space to how it must heighten its respect for its surrounding community in terms of its development plans.

The new design partner will take nine months to create the long-range plan. We’re eager to see the findings and are glad N.Y.U. is at last taking this course of action. With N.Y.U. working with Borough President Scott Stringer’s N.Y.U. Task Force, we hold out hope the university will learn a new approach to co-existing in what Sexton so rightly calls “a fragile ecosystem.”

But two other projects being proposed just don’t work “ecosystematically,” to use Sexton’s term. The city’s approval on Tuesday of Donald Trump’s 42-story condo-hotel project on Spring St. in Hudson Square stands to spark a dramatic change in this neighborhood’s environment. The main issue, however, is that this project does not pass the smell test. Everyone — except the Department of Buildings, that is — knows this tower is going to be used residentially, thus slipping through zoning regulations in the manufacturing-zoned district. Changing the ecosystem is one thing — but doing so in such a blatantly wrongheaded way is deplorable. This project demands a public review. Yet there was none.

Trump’s “condotel” is only blocks away from Pier 40, where another large-scale project — Related Companies’ Cirque du Soleil and Tribeca Film Festival extravaganza — also threatens to impact the surrounding neighborhood.

Again, we must ask: Is the Hudson River Park Trust thinking ecosystematically? The community is united against anything that brings significant auto traffic and swarms of tourists to the pier. And the population using the pier for sports is growing sharply.

As we’ve said for years, the Trust must be far more transparent about why it wants so much revenue from Pier 40, and about its overall financial plans for the park. Governor Spitzer would be well served to direct the Trust to become more open in its operations. The secrecy must end.

Clearly, the Related plan as construed would not be healthy for Pier 40’s youth sports ecosystem. As of now, the best option, it seems, would be not to change the pier’s current mix of activities. If anything, local parents and children want even more athletic fields on the pier.

The verdict is still out on N.Y.U.’s planning initiative. In nine months, we’ll see what they’ve come up. Although this plan will ultimately be judged by its results, we choose to be optimistic. The city and Trust, meanwhile, must think, yes, more ecosystematically about Hudson Square and Pier 40.

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