Opinion | Mayor Adams, Build a Bigger Manhattan

On January 1, Eric Adams was sworn in as New York’s 110th mayor. He is now responsible for the city’s response to large and growing problems. The first is the housing affordability crisis. There is another topic related to the damages of climate change: sea level rise, floods and storm surges.

There is a way to help address both issues with one bold political strike: the expansion of Manhattan Island into the harbor.

Last September, after witnessing unprecedented flooding of the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Mr Adams said it was “a real wake-up call to all of us of how we must understand how climate change is affecting us”. This realization should prompt him to take drastic measures to mitigate the devastation caused by climate change.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg presented climate change plans that included extending the shoreline along the East River in lower Manhattan. But these proposals, while impressive, would be small steps and not have much of an impact on problems of such a large scale.

This new proposal provides significant protection against surges with the construction of new housing. To do this, Manhattan extends to New York Harbor by 1,760 acres. This landfill development, like many other projects in the city’s past, will reshape Manhattan’s southern shoreline. We can name the area created New Mannahatta (taken from the name Lenape gave to Manhattan).

A neighborhood this size is larger than the Upper West Side (Community District 7), which is 1,220 acres. Imagine copying from scratch a diverse neighborhood with housing of all shapes and sizes, from traditional brownstones to five-story apartment blocks to high-rises. If built in similar density and style to the Upper West Side, New Mannahatta could contain approximately 180,000 new housing units.

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In 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced an affordable housing plan that would build or maintain 200,000 affordable units. Despite this, rents continued to rise because construction did not keep pace with population and income growth. To give an idea of ​​the scale, from 2010 to 2018, 171,000 housing units were built, enough to accommodate about 417,000 people. However, in the same period, the city’s population grew by nearly 500,000.

The Covid pandemic has put a temporary strain on real estate in New York City, but its impact is waning, and the affordability crisis has reignited. Rents are back to pre-pandemic levels. Mayor Adams presented his vision for affordable housing, which includes incentives for more construction across the five boroughs. New Mannahatta offers the possibility of achieving the goal of adding a large number of new units, many of which can be made more affordable for low-income families.

Creating land in the harbor would also help New York City insulate itself against climate change. The new community would push vulnerable places like Wall and Broad Streets inland, and the peninsula could be designed with special protections around its coast to protect itself and the rest of the city from flooding. In particular, the ecology of wetlands around beaches will absorb the spikes. Building the land at a higher altitude would improve its protective capacity, and the new peninsula could recreate historic ecology and establish ecological and environmental research centers dedicated to improving the quality of New York’s natural world.

One of the advantages of creating this new neighborhood is the ability to pay for it through sales or long-term land leases. Using the Upper West Side as a model, in 2019, building sales averaged about $1,500 per square foot, while citywide building construction costs averaged about $500 per square foot. That leaves the rest for land production and infrastructure, including the expansion of subway lines. New ferry routes could be created along the beaches, which will aid in the city’s broader plan to increase ferry use. If managed wisely, the project could turn a profit, especially if the money comes from the new federal infrastructure bill. Once the estates are completed, the city will receive new income from the estate tax. In 2017, the Upper West Side, for example, contributed about $1.4 billion to city coffers.

New York was once a city with big projects like the Brooklyn Bridge, subway system, and 92-acre Battery Park (it largely escaped the flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012). In these times of danger, big thinking is essential.

Mayor Adams has an opportunity to create a legacy of making New York safer and more affordable. A new Manhatta can help ensure the city thrives in the 21st century.

JasonBarrRU, Professor of Economics at Rutgers University, Newark, author of Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan Skyscrapers and The Skynomics Blog.

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