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Rethinking Lower Manhattan: What If?

Anthony Townsend's picture

Since its founding in the mid 1990s, Alliance for Downtown New York has long been one of the world's leading business improvement districts. This non-profit organization has presided over the reinvention of New York's historic Financial District as a thriving 24-hour live/work district, while retaining a respectable share of the city's financial services sector. The Alliance built a network of Wi-Fi hotspots that lit up nearly every major public space in the district - not just outdoor locations like Bowling Green and City Hall Park, but also indoor atria like the Winter Garden and 60 Wall Street. More recently, they announced a new initiative to create a new kind of incubator, the Hive@55, which will model itself off the exploding grassroots coworking movement that is sweeping the country.

Thus its no surprise that such an innovative advocate for Lower Manhattan has just blown the roof off the debate on what to do with the long-neglected area south of the World Trade Center known as Greenwich South, with a study released yesterday titled simply "Greenwich South: What If?". Developed over the last year with the input of numerous stakeholders and award-winning architects, the study presents a series of provocative questions that hope to accelerate the debate about the area's future far beyond the rather unambitious proposals that have circulated in recent years. My personal favorite - "What if you could Live, Work and Raise Sheep in the same building?" - is about the most delightfully playful urban planning idea to be floated in New York City in a decade.

Greenwich South has long been the stepchild of Lower Manhattan - blighted first by an elevated railway, then the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel approach, then the closing off of northern access by the World Trade Center superblock - nearly any action would be an improvement. And that's what most of the proposals to date have been limited to - incremental improvements. The Alliance study offers the possibility to turn the area into a living laboratory for bold new planning ideas that bring great streets, public art, and even urban agriculture into the place where New York City started. One of the study's other provocations, which asks "What if it all started here (again)?" might just be a wish that turns out to be true.


Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.


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