For New Yorkers attached to their subway system, the area of midtown west of 8th Ave. often feels like undiscovered territories. Parts of 10th and 11th Ave. in the West 30s or 40s are a good 15-minute walk from the subway, and as the rest of Manhattan has seen a spike in real estate value over the last 15-20 years, the area around the Lincoln Tunnel and in Hells Kitchen has been slower to grow. There are still, the romantics say, some true neighborhoods left on this island after all.
When the city and MTA announced plans to extend the 7 line west of Times Square to 11th Ave. and 34th St. with a station at 10th Ave. and 41st St., residents of the area reacted with something in between indifference and hatred. Despite living in a neighborhood that can feel marginalized and off the grid, these people weren’t holding their collective breath waiting for the train.
In fact, when the city discarded its plans for the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. due to cost overruns, the neighborhood issued nary a peep. Not until recently did the Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful professional association, throw its voice behind a call to include this station in the 7 extension plans, and even then, those who live on the Far West Side stayed out of the debate. The silence was deafening.
At first, I didn’t understand why no one from Hells Kitchen seemed too concerned about the MTA’s plans. Those looking at the city on a macro level understood that New York was about to lose its best chance to bring subway service to an area woefully underserved by existing mass transit option. Any future investment would cost not the hundreds of millions the city claims a station at 10th Ave. would run them but in the billions. Provisioning for a station as the line is built would be far more economical than building one from scratch in the future.
Recently, though, after a few conversations with residents and a piece this weekend in the Daily News, I’ve come to understand why few in the area are actively calling for the city to build a subway stop there. It is, pure and simply, NIMBYism at its finest. The article in question is a neighborhood profile of the area around the Lincoln Tunnel. According to the News’ Jason Sheftell, this area has seen an explosion in the number of luxury buildings going up, and correspondingly, rents in the area are on the rise. Young people are moving in, and the old guard long used to being left alone in a relatively seedy area is getting squeezed out. Bringing the subway west will only exacerbate this gentrification.
One anonymous commenter on a post I wrote two weeks ago laid bare these concerns. While taking umbrage with my charge of NIMBYism, he said, “Families have lived in this area for generations and stayed here despite the rough times. Should they be forced out just to accommodate college kids who will move out anyway in less than five years?”
This argument against a subway station in a neighborhood in need of transit is the very definition of NIMBYism. Residents view a subway as desirable, but adding something desirable to the neighborhood makes the area more expensive. Rents go up; property values go up; property taxes go up; and some people are priced out of the area all because a subway stop grows. The same thing, by the way, is bound to happen along the Upper East Side in a few years.
But NIMBYism should not be an excuse for poor urban planning. On the grand scheme of the future of the city, the Far West Side will undergo a change no matter what. Whether we support Mayor Bloomberg’s blatant planning for the benefit of his friends in real estate, Related is going to build a transit-accessible mixed-use complex of residences and office space. The subway will run to 34th St. and 11th Ave., and the area will change. A lukewarm response from Hells Kitchen shouldn’t be read to mean that residents don’t want and the city shouldn’t build a subway there. The 7 should stop at 10th Ave. no matter what.