Battery Park City
This little known area of NYC may hold the answer to the age old question of how to keep young people from leaving cities once they have children. I met a close friend and my brother for lunch in the World Financial Center (it turns out they both work in the same building), and I took a walk around Battery Park City.
Now, in my Contemporary Urbanism course at Vassar, we were taught that this place was in general not a good place. Though it sought to extend the urban fabric of NYC, it was contrived, and lacked the urban culture of the rest of the city.
I had believed this to be true until today. I had gone down there a few times before, but the weather was bad when I went, and it was always on a weekend, therefore the streets were eerily quiet. But yesterday was a beautiful day, and it was also a weekday, and let me tell you, this place was packed with people. Granted, the types of people who were there were generally a very select type of person; generally White or Asian, and generally wealthy, though there were of course exceptions. Keep in mind that this area is essentially a bedroom community for the Financial District, so the population reflects this market reality. But regardless, the area felt vibrant and comfortable.
Interestingly, the public space of Battery Park City was not defensive. If a hobo wanted to, there are many benches and ledges that they could technically fall asleep on. My guess is that Battery Park City is either too far away from the rest of the city to attract many hobos, or there is some kind of private security company that apparently has the right to disband them. I’ll need to do more research.
But anyways, the important thing is that Battery Park City has somehow created a space in Manhattan that attracts young families, in what is perhaps one of the most difficult places to raise a family. Regardless of your views on gentrification and class issues, cities need these wealthy young families to stay in the city, rather than flee to the suburbs in order to sustain a tax base, because the reality is that without the wealthy, the city will never be able to assist the poor.
Architecturally, what the area lacks in pilasters and pediments, it more than makes up for in its density and urban life. Battery Park City a rare example of the New Urbanism applied to the urban core, and you know what? It works pretty damn well. I would live there in a heartbeat.
Now should all of NYC look and feel like Battery Park City? The answer is undoubtedly no, and this is exactly why this place works so well. You can go to the West Village or the Lower East and get drunk, dance up a storm, and cause a ruckus, but at the end of the night you can return to peace and quiet without leaving the city. Now how great is that?