The development of New York’s biggest spot of open land seems to turn into another urban planning failure.

On Wednesday, March 26th, real-estate company Tishman Speyer was selected by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to develop the Westside Railyards, a 10.5 hectares (26 acres) industrial area on the west side of Manhattan. The decision followed a lengthy process in which five companies competed for this biggest patch of undeveloped land in Manhattan, which is about twice the size of Ground Zero. Ironically, the final decision was not based on the best urban vision for the area, but because the other four contenders dropped out of the race because of a lack of funds to subsidize the project due to the current financial crisis.

If you thought that architecturally, it couldn’t get any worse than the final plans for Ground Zero, then you’ll realize that the situation now has obviously bottomed out. The towers designed by Murphy/Jahn are completely unimaginative blocks whose only creative aspect is that they come in sets of two which are rotated 180 degrees to each other. The high-rise buildings flank the north and south sides of the area and cut it off from its surroundings, creating a canyon that does not integrate into the surrounding neighborhood in any way. This is as unimaginative as it gets, and this is what you get from a developer that wants the most bang for the buck as has no aspirations to create a stimulating urban environment.

In the past years or decades, New York has had its fair share of mislead urban planning projects. The redevelopment of Ground Zero has become the city’s most discouraging project after the developer chopped off more and more aspects of Daniel Libeskind’s original masterplan, turning the ambitious plan into nothing but money matter and run-of-the-mill architecture, and degrading the foregoing architectural competition into nothing more than a public show. in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Yards project, developed by architect Frank Gehry, is in the midst of being shrunk to a shadow of its former self, due to a lack of funds.

It looks like New York, boasting the famous and, at it’s time, trend-setting large scale development project Rockefeller Center, uses any chance it can get today to screw up contemporary projects of similar sizes. The plans get severely diluted, and the architecture ends up as something that shows no intention of setting new standards and doesn’t even seem to care about its role in this city that once was famous for its architecture.

Maybe there is a slight chance of hope though. Maybe not for Ground Zero, which already (though that word sounds so totally ironic in this context) is in the process of construction. But for the Hudson Yards, there are still countless years of planning ahead. With a lot of luck, there will be a shift in the plans until then, and the architecture might change as well during the process, as it is not carved in stone yet, so maybe it will change to the better. But much more important is that after all these painfully mislead projects, New York and its developers finally have to realize their failures and change their way of thinking and — this has to be said — shift their priorities from pure financial aspects towards a sense of responsibility in respect to the city and its inhabitants. They are constructing the New York of tomorrow, and they have to make sure the future New York lives up to the fame that the old New York had. And I express this hope even though “recent history teaches us […] that the project is only likely to get worse”, as written by New York Times’ architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff in this article.

(I was tempted to also mention the horrid project of a developer to turn a 1920’s building’s brown brick facade into a glass curtain wall, but that is a different story and it doesn’t fit into the scale of the projects described above, even though it still shows how ignorant some developers are in respect to the historical substance of the city. So if you want another dreadful story, read this article)