Oh, I see! How inventive! You've actually stacked the boxes I am supposed to live in!

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Grand Central Works

by Urban Omnibus
August 5th, 2009

Vishaan Chakrabarti offered Omnibus readers a searing critique of stimulus spending: calling out the “shovel-ready” prescription as the kind of medication that will enable and encourage our gluttonous land use and development habits at the expense of intelligent investment in infrastructure. Chakrabarti doesn’t merely opine on the ways and means of reimagining the American landscape, however. In his current role as an Executive Vice President of Related Companies, he is in charge of design and planning efforts for the Hudson Rail Yards and Moynihan Station: two sites that, in order to be done right, require a careful calibration of public-private partnerships and a farsighted appreciation of the nexus between transportation infrastructure, commercial capacity and urban density.

Does that sound impossible? Politically unpalatable and financially unsound? Like it will take too long and is just too hard?

Well, we have an example of exactly that kind of accretive process in one of the city’s most beloved places, Grand Central Terminal. Why does it work so well? Listen to Vishaan tell it like it is. First, he reflects on some design details of the spectacular Main Concourse. Next, he wanders down Park Avenue and shares some of the history of how private sector competition led to a major public amenity and transformed the entire metropolitan region. Then he explores the terminal’s tentacular North-end Access and reflects further on how the terminal has transformed urban and regional economies. Finally, as he delves into the food court, he ponders lessons to be learned from Grand Central that could be applied to Moynihan Station.

Main Concourse

Lesson #1: Design matters. Beyond the obvious grandeur of its public spaces, Grand Central relies on a sophisticated layering of uses that has influenced the design of airports and train stations around the world.
Video running time: 3:22

Park Ave Construction
Park Avenue and Midtown East 

“It’s more than just the building. It’s about how hundreds of thousands of people move around a region.”

Lesson #2:
The building is only part of a larger exercise in citymaking. Grand Central catalyzed the development of some of the most valuable real estate in the world.

Running time: 4:27. Right-click here to download mp3.

North-end Access

All great train stations… have tentacles that reach out into the city. There’s not just a front door.

Lesson #3:
Plan for phases. Grand Central wasn’t built in a day, and part of what makes it work can be found in the less than glamorous network of pedestrian access passageways.

Running time: 2:41. Right-click here to download mp3.

Grand Central Market .
Lessons for Moynihan Station 

Train stations still have an openness about them. … as hubs [they] speak to the nature of the city that’s around them.

Lesson #4:
Think big.
If we could make a commuter terminal this nice – and one that’s had such wide-ranging urban and metropolitan ramifications – imagine what we could do with a major inter-city regional rail hub?
Running time: 4:36. Right-click here to download mp3.

Listen to Bob Yaro reflect on the destruction of the original Penn Station and imagine a new future for Midtown West. Perhaps realizing that future will require looking carefully into the city’s past. -C.S

For a terrific documentary on the construction of Grand Central Terminal:
American Experience - PBS

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