Most of the city will never get to live, work, shop and play in the billionaires fantasy now grafted on to the side of Manhattan
We love it here because we love you here, read the enormous ad covering the side of a red double-decker New York City tour bus, touting H&Ms new Hudson Yards location. The slogan is a lie. Hudson Yards does not love you. We do not love Hudson Yards. And we especially do not love it here, in a city that is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that we are all something more than props in a metropolis-sized variety show put on for the benefit of bored hedge fund employees.
Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate development in US history, may be slightly less offensive to the memory of Jane Jacobs than a freeway running through Greenwich Village, but not by much. As urban planning visions go, it is a familiar one: an ultracapitalist equivalent of the Forbidden City, a Chichen Itza with a better mall and slightly better-concealed human sacrifice. The development has been dubbed a billionaires fantasy city, but it is something more sinister than that. It is a billionaires reality city. The other 8.6 million of us are just character actors in this drama starring the most unbearable people you can imagine.
If someone were to give you a 28-acre blank canvas in the Manhattan metropolis, what might you create? An urban green space to rival Central Park? A forest of affordable housing? Or just an unpredictable jumble of organically grown city blocks, the sort of untamable warrens of shops and stores and spaces that allow culture to arise from chaos, the hallmark of all of the worlds truly interesting cities? The fact that you would consider any of those ideas just goes to show why you are not worth $7.7bn like the Related Companies CEO, Stephen Ross, the man who shepherded Hudson Yards into existence.
If you had the combination of business savvy and utter lack of appreciation of subtlety that defines Stephen Ross a man whose idea of a good philanthropic donation is to give several hundred million dollars to the University of Michigan in order to get the business school named after himself, while also trying to use the donation to wrangle a grossly inflated tax break then you would use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make New York City resemble the non-gaming portion of the Vegas strip. If you can imagine making your lifes legacy helped Manhattan add to its supply of desperately needed luxury towers, then you might have what it takes to be a diversified real estate billionaire.
Hudson Yards is notable for having the worst of everything. It has managed to spin the grotesquely luxurious gym brand Equinox into an entire hotel, premised, I guess, on the idea that softer sheets make harder muscles. It will have a suburban-style mall with a Neiman Marcus, since New York lacks for places to buy overpriced watches and yoga pants. It will have an array of lavish new glass tower office buildings housing consulting firm and private equity offices, enough to make you contemplate whether another real estate crash would be tolerable just for the effect it would have on this particular development. The tallest of the new skyscrapers, in fact, conveniently boasts a dazzling outdoor observation deck, in case any market-related suicides become necessary.
There are the mandatory celebrity chef-branded food caverns, where BlackRock financiers can sit with Thomas Keller-approved wagyu steaks and contemplate the democratic civic spirit of the Big Apple, or slurp David Chang-branded noodles without having to venture to any of the messy places where noodles are usually consumed. And there will be ample apartments for sale, in tower after tower, posh glass cages for those whose definition of a starter home begins with a seven-figure price tag. Indeed, it will be a neighborhood-sized version of another Ross project, the Time Warner Center not the rarefied luxury of Central Park West, but the luxury of buying a $40m apartment next to a Russian oligarch, with a Whole Foods in the basement, a restaurant with an $1,100 tasting menu above that, and a quantum foam of tourists stretching out around you in all directions.