Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Perkins Eastman is taking two of the best-loved urban land-use stories of the Bloomberg era—the High Line and Times Square—and combining them into one.
Two of the better achievements during Michael Bloomberg’s time as mayor of New York involved new ways of thinking about using urban land. The High Line, whose construction began in 2006, and Times Square, which was closed to traffic in 2009, serve as models that have been widely adopted across the country.
One architecture firm wants to combine the two concepts for New York City.
Perkins Eastman has released a plan to turn Broadway Avenue into a pedestrian park running 40 blocks up and down Manhattan. The Green Line would extend from Columbus Circle to Union Square, connecting several prominent parks and plazas (Madison Square, Herald Square, Times Square) along the way.
Jonathan Cohn, a principal for Perkins Eastman, spoke to Dezeen about the proposal. "As a linear at-grade park, the Green Line would provide much needed active and passive recreational space in the heart of the city,” Cohn said—speaking in terms that will be familiar to anyone who’s visited Times Square or the High Line in the last decade.
The Green Line extends the logic of changes that have already taken root along the limited stretch of Broadway running through Times Square. Perkins Eastman’s proposal builds on the work of Jan Gehl and Snøhetta, the architects who pedestrianized Times Square. Yet it also echoes the High Line by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The Green Line project commandeers a piece of infrastructure—in this case, Broadway, which is still very much in use by drivers—and converts it into parkland and pedestrian and cycle paths.
The Green Line proposal, which is as yet only a proposal, boasts one innovation that trumps either of its conceptual predecessors. As Cohn explained to Dezeen, the landscaping of the continuous Broadway park would include bioswales and other features designed to ameliorate stormwater runoff. This component makes the Green Line an environmentally sensitive, ecologically minded landscape project. Something akin to the Big U, an extension of low-lying geography around southern Manhattan designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (and a team of contributing firms).
So aspects of the Perkins Eastman proposal draw on best practices from New York’s recent past, while a major component of the park thinks forward to New York’s future. Will it work? Times Square proves to be even more popular with tourists today than ever before (less so with real New Yorkers). Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio has threatened to review the pedestrianization of Times Square, thanks to the irritating costumed characters and painted desnudas who thrive in such congested conditions. Turning all of Broadway into a lush pedestrian plaza would seem to only invite more people to public squares and plazas along the avenue.
Another consideration is cost. Perkins Eastman has said that the project will pay for itself, thanks to the increase in property values it will presumably bring along Broadway. But that brings up what might be the Green Line’s biggest potential flaw. Without ensuring that the values are returned to the city in the form of affordable housing, the Green Line could wind up being as equitable as the High Line—which is to say, not equitable at all.
Then there’s the loss of a major thoroughfare for drivers to consider. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯