Filling Downtown's Donut Hole

Filling Downtown's Donut Hole

One lament about the original World Trade Center was that its construction entailed the razing of Radio Row, the small neighborhood of shops around Cortlandt Street that specialized in electronics. While that bit of old New York has long been eulogized, many may not realize that a second swath of downtown has remained virtually on life support since the Twin Towers’ completion: a 25-block area directly south of Liberty Street.


That stretch of commercial, retail, and residential buildings is now poised for a resurrection, spurred in part by new development and the imminent return of Greenwich Street through the World Trade Center site-along with a new visioning plan, unveiled yesterday by the Downtown Alliance, aimed at stitching the area back into the city.

Newly dubbed Greenwich South, the neighborhood has been something of cipher since the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel took a chunk out of its core, not to mention the accompanying parking garage and a warren of Revolutionary-era streets that make navigation difficult even for veteran New Yorkers.

“Right now, it’s the hole in the donut,” said Elizabeth Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance. “But if you look at a map, it’s at the heart of the action. We want to take a moment to explore this area and make it really integral to everything surrounding it.”

To that end, the Downtown Alliance selected Architecture Research Office in early 2008 to spend a year developing a master plan for the area. Stephen Cassell, ARO’s partner-in-charge, said that in light of the many previous plans for the area-one of which called for 30-foot-high skywalks between buildings-designers took a more flexible approach.

“It really operates on multiple scales,” Cassell said of the plan, “and the key is you don’t need one or the other to be successful. It’s not averse to megaprojects, but it’s not dependent on them, either.”


ARO teamed up with Beyer Blinder Belle, which provided its master-planning expertise, and Open, a graphic-design firm charged with making Greenwich South more visible and accessible. The team came up with five principles: Reconnect Greenwich Street, transform the neighborhood into a magnet, create east-to-west connections, encourage an intensive mix of uses, and promote a mix of densities with a human scale.

Each principle works both in the immediate and long terms. Beyond the literal reconnection of Greenwich Street-to be completed by 2011-the plan seeks to turn the byway into a connector for southwestern Manhattan, as it will now be the only other street besides Broadway running the entire length of downtown (the plan considers West Street and FDR Drive as essentially freeways). In fact, the hope for the long term is to create a bike-, transit-, and pedestrian-friendly boulevard superior even to Broadway.

To ensure that the planning principles work, ARO tapped ten designers and artists, who provided their work pro bono to implement pieces of the plan during a six-week charrette. Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis created a vertical park that bridges the Battery Park tunnel, offering east-west access while helping scrub the district’s noxious air. Coen + Partners proposed vertical landscaping for the tunnel’s exhaust shaft, neighboring buildings, and other access points to the neighborhood. DeWitt Godfrey created a sculpture as a gateway at Exchange Place, while Open devised flexible wayfinding solutions, and Beyer Blinder Belle created a new museum at the American Stock Exchange building.

On the grander scale, WorkAC devised a “plug-in building” designed to fit within the puzzle of structures that already fill the district. Morphosis proposed Battery North, an extension of the park into the district. IwamotoScott developed a swirling tower with openings at its base to encourage pedestrian flow. And ARO decked over the approach to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, replacing it with a tiered park and public market.

“In the long view, after the World Trade Center is completed, there’s not that many places left in Lower Manhattan,” said Neil Kittredge, director of planning and urban design at Beyer Blinder Belle. “For development, Greenwich South is one of the last places that’s left. But we want to make sure it is unlike anything else before it.”

The Downtown Alliance has installed an exhibition of the plan at Zuccotti Park, with a show of the 10 proposals due to open at the Center for Architecture Friday.