LoLo- the suburb that doesn’t exist

LoLo which is Lower Lower Manhattan, is one of the first proposals from the Center for Urban Real Estate, a new research group at Colombia University.

They are proposing that this new neighbourhood should be created by connecting Lower Manhattan with Governors Island. Millions of cubic yards of landfill will be used to connect the two.They estimate that LoLo would create 88 million square feet of development and could generate up to $16.7 billion in revenue for the city over 20 to 30 years.

This kind of bold thinking is exactly what New York needs according Vishaan Chakrabarti, the director of the center and also the Marc Holliday associate professor of real estate at Columbia. There might be strict regulations on building on landfill, but it is important to keep the ideas flowing in.

Chakrabarti realises that this project is enormous and that it would require intensive environmental impact reports as well as changes to the regulations, he remarked further that even after all the studies and reports were done LoLo would still take decades to come to realisation and would cost the city billions of dollars.

So why do it?

The center is proposing a 92-acre national historic district on the island, 3.9 million square feet for public buildings like schools and 270 acres of open space. The revenue generated by the development would also pay for the extension of the No. 1 and 6 subway lines to the new neighbourhood and for a bridge from Red Hook in Brooklyn.

Robert Pirani, the executive director of the Governors Island Alliance, a civic coalition led by the Regional Plan Association, said he had yet to see the full plan. But when it was described to him, Mr. Pirani questioned whether a land bridge connecting Manhattan to Governors Island would spur development. “The ferry is only eight minutes from Manhattan and relatively cheap to operate,” he said. “So in my mind, the distance from Manhattan isn’t the impediment to development.”

Instead, he said: “The city needs to build better infrastructure on the island, like potable water and public transit so that it can be treated like any other development site rather than an amorphous unknown. Developers want certainty, and that is the missing piece.”

The center also proposes using landfill to create barrier islands in the harbor that would help protect against storm surges, and it proposes removing the existing sea walls around Governors Island and replacing them with so-called soft edges, marshy land that scientists say can better absorb the impact of a storm.

The landfill would come from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is dredging New York Harbor to maintain and deepen shipping channels. Over the next 55 years, the corps is expected to dredge 180 million cubic yards of material, with the vast majority winding up in landfills and abandoned mines across the country.

Before the current regulations for building on top of landfill, the method was often used to expand the city’s footprint, including for Battery Park City, part of which is built on the dirt from the original World Trade Center. It is a popular strategy in other cities around the world. About 250 million cubic yards of landfill was used to create the Hong Kong airport and 6.65 billion cubic yards to create land in Tokyo Bay. The Governors Island proposal is much more modest, using approximately 23 million cubic yards, according to the study.

“Vishaan is thinking globally,” said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Arts Society of New York, who has seen the Governors Island proposal, “and is unabashed about looking at the kind of things that will move regions like ours forward.”

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