Katie By
Dec 9, 2013 | Comments Off

Crafting a New York Neighborhood: Michael Samuelian on Planning of Hudson Yards

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New York is a melding of unique neighborhoods—it’s what makes this city so fluid and exciting, and it’s why New Yorkers are such a devoted bunch. So how would one go about creating a new neighborhood in a city that’s constantly changing—especially if it’s the biggest real estate project in United States history? This is the exciting urban planning challenge posed to the folks behind Hudson Yards, a 26-acre mixed-use development currently under construction between 10th and 12th Avenues from West 30th to West 33rd Streets.

The neighborhood will be completed in phases over the next few years to next decade, and will include office and residential buildings, shopping, dining, arts, parks (14 acres of open space!), an observation area (watch your back, Top of the Rock!), movie theater, new subway line and much more. We caught up with Michael Samuelian, VP of Hudson Yards, at the project’s exhibit here at Time Warner Center (which ran through December 26), where he filled us in on all the details and divulged his thoughts on what makes a neighborhood great.

In a city like New York, where every neighborhood is constantly changing, how do you begin to premeditate and address a new neighborhood’s needs both ahead of and throughout the construction process?

We have learned a lot along the way. We actually did a survey when we first started the project on what are the best neighborhoods in New York, what do people like about this neighborhood, what are some of the top neighborhoods to work in, to live in or to visit. And many of them ended up being the same neighborhoods: Madison Square, Union Square, Tribeca. So mixed use is really important to us. We want to make sure we don’t just create an office neighborhood or a residential neighborhood, but really mix it up together.

And the 14 acres of green space, too! That’s a huge plus—New Yorkers love their outdoor space.

Yes, unlike anywhere else, half of our site is dedicated to public open space, and it’s going to be fabulous open space right in the heart of the city, connected directly to the High Line park and close to the new number 7 train. It’s well-positioned to be the real centerpiece of the neighborhood.

Being, essentially, an extension of the High Line is huge.

Exactly. I think when it opens it’ll actually be blurred with the High Line—we’re up at the High Line’s level because we have to build a platform over the existing rail yard. We’re only going to be two and a half feet over the High Line, so it’s going to be a very seamless connection.

Was it important to you to hire local architects for this project?

Yes—in New York we have such great architectural and design talent. It was important to us, for authenticity, to have New York-based architects working on what we think is the next great neighborhood in New York.

This is the biggest real estate project in United States history—what are some of the challenges that come along with managing something of this magnitude?

The biggest risk is size—that it’s going to be perceived as too big. But I think we’ve worked hard to make sure that we have different architects designing all of the buildings so they don’t all look alike. And I think the high quality open space tying it all together is important, too. The size gives us the ability to do amazing things like having six acres of parks right on the first phase, having seven levels of retail, having movie theaters and having an international food experience—we can take advantage of it. Every day there are going to be 40,000 people living, working or visiting. That’s like a small town anywhere else in America!

New York neighborhoods often get a cool nickname, like Tribeca or SoHo or Dumbo—what do you think people will call Hudson Yards?

I have no idea—I look forward to people telling us what it’ll be! Hudson Yards is interesting, but it’s a made-up name. A combination of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, if you can figure that out.

Chichen? Helsea? I’ve got nothing. What do you think makes a great New York neighborhood?

I think diversity—having a range of different things to do, having a vibrant 24-7 environment where people can live and work and shop and play all in the same place, and really putting a high value on public amenities.

Which neighborhood do you live in, and what made you choose it?

I used to live in Hell’s Kitchen and now I live in Chelsea—I live just a couple blocks away from Hudson Yards. I’m a west sider—I’ve lived on the west side for 15 years—so I like running on the Hudson River, and I love Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Hell’s Kitchen. I adore going to Chelsea Market and going to the Equinox or walking on the High Line. It’s an amazing place!

Where do you go here in New York to seek inspiration?

I’m a runner, so I always run on the west side—I run from Chelsea all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, and I love that. I ran the New York City marathon this year, so I was training a lot this fall—I don’t always do that! I love Hudson River Park—I think it’s amazing and transformative. And of course I love Chelsea Market, it’s so diverse and cool. I  had so many great weekends this fall just going for a run on the west side, going to Equinox to stretch out, going to Chelsea Market and grabbing some food, hitting a sample sale, getting a little Vietnamese sandwich, and then taking a walk on the High Line.

Photo: Hudson Yards

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