40 Story Buildings In Washington Heights?

Our contractor took the week off this week (long story), so I figure I’d do a blog post I’ve been meaning to do for a while now… Whether really tall buildings are appropriate uptown.

Back in early May Quadriad proposed a set of 40(ish) story buildings for our old neighborhood – around 190 and Broadway. They’d literally tower over all the buildings around them. Here’s what they were proposing… Phase 1 would be three towers built on top of the 191 Street IRT station (the 1 line)…

Quadriad Phase 1 - 3 towers

Phase 2 would knock down a funeral home across the street and put up a 4th building that’s shorter…

Quadriad Phase 2 - 4 buildings

We got into a bit of a discussion with a friend of ours who lives quite near where these buildings will be built. She thinks they’re a horrible idea, but Dan and I sorta like them. Our friend’s argument is that they’re inappropriate for the neighborhood. Nothing in Washington Heights is 40 stories. I think the highest is 20-some stories. She prefers the “as-of-right” option the developers have proposed, which looks like this…

Quadriad As Of Right Proposal

To which Dan and I say “eh…” It’s just boring architecture.

Our friend’s other argument is that luxury condos (or luxury rentals) are a bad idea – that Washington Heights should remain largely affordable housing. The irony is that she’s one of those rare Manhattan Republicans. How a Republican can be opposed to the interests of developers beyond me – I thought that was one of the defining characteristics of Republicans in New York. The other thing is that the capitalist (Republican?) argument should be that more supply => demand is accommodated => lower prices. In other words, if you want Manhattan to still have affordable housing you need more units on the market to meet the demand since the more there is of something, the lower its price will be. Clearly there’s not much vacant land in Manhattan – that means you need to build up.

Plus, all major development projects these days include affordable housing units. The bigger the project, the more affordable housing units you’ll get. So if you want affordable housing in Manhattan you should be in favor of projects like this one.

I’ve also heard people say tall buildings uptown will overburden the transportation infrastructure. But the Quadriad site is literally on top of a subway stop and less than a 5 minute walk to another subway stop. We’ve got pretty good subway access uptown that’s no where close to capacity. They could easily double the number of trains if they needed to, or extend the C train to 207. Transportation isn’t really an issue.

So what this boils down to is aesthetics and zoning and perhaps historic preservation. I had an architectural design professor in college who said “if you break the rules you need to do something really special”. Yes, the 40 story towers break zoning rules, but Dan and I think they’re good enough to warrant the rules being broken.

That isn’t always the case. For example Graceline Court (the silver and pink building in the picture below) stands out on the Harlem skyline, but it’s just incredibly boring…

Graceline Court - tall building in Harlem

Harlem is generally zoned lower than Washington Heights, so this is potentially a bigger issue in Harlem than it is in Washington Heights. I’m actually very much in favor of tall buildings going up in Harlem – but I want them to be interesting to look at, and I don’t want (too many) historically interesting buildings torn down in the process. Graceline Court is just dull – I want something better than that. I’d love it if they build a 40+ story building on the empty lot at 125 & Lenox where the rumor mill says a Hyatt (?) may be built.

So I say Go Tall Uptown (and make it interesting)… What does everyone else thing?

3 thoughts on “40 Story Buildings In Washington Heights?

  1. I live at W 105 & Columbus Ave and we had two glass monstrosities go up at 100th Street and Broadway, completely out of proportion to the neighborhood, after which I understand there was general uproar in the community, but not enough to stop the other lux buildings going up at 97th and Columbus and bringing us Whole Foods…

    I can agree with your argument that new buildings should have aesthetic value, much new building in Manhattan, including almost all the new condos going up in Harlem are fantastically ugly. On the other hand, with rampant luxury condo building all over this island, especially in Hell’s Kitchen, no one is about to make the argument that there is any more affordable housing available in Manhattan, if anything the city has gotten exponentially more expensive for artists and the other more interesting lower-income professions that make life here attractive. Yes, at times tax abatements and so-called Mitchell-Lama units are made available in new construction, but developers also shirk on it and it amounts to a small percentage of newly available housing.

    As to the other argument that building over a subway station is not adding to the burden of transportation – well, it’s not about proximity or access, it’s about adding 1,000s of riders. I live on the last local stop of the 1 train before it joins the express at 96th street. As the morning rush comes downtown on a given weekday you have to wait for 3 trains to go by before you can board a crushly packed subway car. In fact, I don’t bother with the 103rd street stop, I have the luxury of walking to 96th street.

    Extending the C train to 207? Not sure if you mean adding another train to a single track line, or widening the tunnels? Through the solid bedrock of uptown Manhattan? If the 7 line extension is going to cost how many billion $? Let alone the the long-needed 2nd Ave line? Not too realistic.

    Your Republican friend is simply a perfect example of NIMBY-ism as it classically occurs in gotham.

    • Rich – When I say “extending the C train to 207” I just mean not having it stop at 168 – have both the A and the C go to 207. The A train runs about every 5 to 7 minutes during rush hour. That could be increased to every 3 minutes or so which would mean doubling the capacity – all the MTA needs is to get more trains. Clearly it’ll take a lot of tall buildings to double the population in Washington Heights and Inwood.

      I agree that Manhattan is becoming less interesting – that there are far fewer of the wonderfully quirky people who used to be here when I moved here in 1990. But one constant in Manhattan is change. I feel like Manhattan is turning into an American version of Hong Kong or Tokyo – densely built and expensive. There’s no point in fighting it – it’s just gonna happen…

      I just looked on Google Maps and those buildings at 100 & Bway are really ugly…

  2. I definitely prefer the top option with it’s more striking buildings. However, my biggest concern is what is happening at the street level. I think it would be great to have stores and restaurants on the ground level. When you have a pretty building, all most people can do is look at it. Cities are great because of the ease of access to services among other things. I don’t generally like zoning that prohibits commercial use of the ground floor, unless it is generously balanced with permissive zoning. I would even go so far as requiring it on some avenues. I see many buildings that go up with no storefronts in vibrant areas. My view is that the people that live there are very NIMBY-ly living in a nice building without disturbance or perhaps they are enjoying the prestige of a more stately ground floor. Unfortunately they hurt the livability of the area this way.

    I grew up on Columbus Ave and 100th Street and I like the glass buildings that have gone up. They are boring when compared to The Met, but they are a good deal better than the ugly one and two-story buildings that they replaced. Good riddance! Let them build up, we can use newer stock. If we’re going to pay a lot to live here it should at least be nice construction.

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