As the Second Ave. Subway planning has evolved over the last half a decade, the MTA has had to balance community input with NIMBYism as they’ve designed a subway that meets 21st Century security standards and 20th Century neighborhood designs. No where has this conflict been more obvious than in the handling of the various ancillary structures that come with a subway. From complaints to lawsuits, East Side residents have thrown the book at MTA planners. The authority is now trying to work with these groups to ensure designs that fit the neighborhood, but will it be enough?
This story I tell today starts with the image above. The neighbors had wanted the MTA to work with developers to find a way to include retail or mixed-use development in the structure, but when the authority determined that it would involve more real estate acquisition and higher costs, they scraped that plan. Still, the residents complained that the structure didn’t fit with the neighborhood. It’s monolithic and unwelcoming in a popular mixed-use neighborhood.
The MTA heard these cries and offered up three new renderings. The authority presented these at its October 12 meeting on the progress of the Second Ave. Subway, and I offer them up below.
So what do we see? First, the MTA has realized that buildings look better surrounded by trees. The original rendering atop this post laid bare the building for all to see. The new versions, presented with the goal of portraying the way the buildings could fit worse, now have trees, and doesn’t that look nice?
But snark over the design choices aside, the MTA is showing what these buildings would look like if different materials are used. The first one — my favorite choice — incorporates the same brick as its neighbor on 72nd St. The tan one in the middle tries, but fails, to replicate the building next to it. The bottom grey one is too utilitarian for the Upper East Side. It’s not a realistic alternative as much as a warning of what could be.
The real problem isn’t with these structures themselves. Rather, it’s the requirement that the MTA build eight of these along a short stretch of Second Ave. Unfortunately, because the Second Ave. Subway is around 70-90 feet deep and because security and ventilation standards require it, these buildings are a necessary evil. No matter how they’re presented, unless the authority and its partners are willing to spend a significant amount of money to redesign them for retail, they won’t be nice.
I’ve maintained that we’ll forget about these structures ten years after they open. They’ll just become a part of the Second Ave. landscape for better or worse. But I won’t have to see them on a daily basis or live with their towering presence. The MTA’s current substations and ancillary buildings were better incorporated into the city landscape, and we sometimes pass them without noticing. The Greenwich St. substation is a stately building while the Joralemon St. access point is just a gutted townhouse that blends with its Borough Heights neighbors.
At least the authority is going through the motions of trying to present alternatives. The neighbors probably won’t like them, but that’s the balance between community planing and NIMBYism. You can’t win all of the battles all of the time when it comes to graphing today’s urban requirements onto yesterday’s planning.