On the west side of Manhattan, a new neighbourhood is taking shape. This is Hudson Yards, a development that will turn a dreary section of Manhattan into a technologically advanced neighbourhood of the future. But in order to do that, its designers are undertaking one of the most expensive and unusual engineering projects in NYC history.
The rail yard takes up a massive area of precious city acreage, bumping up against the third stretch of the High Line park. The base of the site is almost entirely occupied by tracks, leaving less than half the area for supporting the actual buildings. To make up for the lost space, workers are methodically drilling caissons deep into the earth, creating a foundation for Hudson Yards — which includes not only skyscrapers and apartment buildings, but a Bryant Park-sized public space.
But before the entire artificial foundation is in place, there's work to be done: Amtrak is installing a sealed tunnel — essentially, a box — the length of the neighbourhood underneath the yards. This nondescript space is like a $US185 million placeholder, since one day they plan to build another tunnel to New Jersey at this spot.
There's no funding for such a project yet, though. So instead, they're building the entrance of the tunnel in anticipation of one day having the cash to finish it. Since Hudson Yards will soon rise over the spot, it would be nearly impossible to dig the hole later on.
When Hudson Yards is finished, there won't be anything like it in NYC — let alone the entire US. It will also be one of the most technologically advanced neighborhoods in the world. For example, Hudson Yards will run its own micro-grid: An independent 13.2-megawatt generator will power its buildings. Cabling is being done to provide unprecedented network and Wi-Fi connectivity with multiple fail safes to keep the network online.
The neighbourhood will run elevated above street level, at the same height as the High Line. That means you'll be able to walk from the High Line onto the Yards' green space and massive retail center seamlessly.
And unlike the rest of the city, your trash bags will never hit the street.
That's because the neighbourhood is being built from the ground up, which means it can incorporate a vacuum tube system to transport trash from inside buildings to underneath them. That's right — Hudson Yards will have one of the country's few pneumatic trash systems.
Hudson Yards' developers want it to become the first truly connected neighbourhood in NYC, so its smart systems will extend to the street, too. Construction crews will install sensors to monitor traffic, electric and heat use, and several other components of neighbourhood life. The idea is to extend "The Internet of Things" to this entire neighbourhood. It's going to be a huge high-tech computer.
New York is an ageing city. We take its flaws, from the garbage to the crumbling infrastructure, as eccentricities. But what's being done at Hudson Yards feels like a first step towards a future version of New York. It's everything we wish our city could be, because it's built from everything we've learned so far.
Perfect cell service, Wi-Fi everywhere, trash out of sight, and fantastical engineering: It's nearly utopian in scale. At the same time, it raises plenty of the same issues that already exist in New York — including whether the neighbourhood will be truly accessible to all New Yorkers, not just the wealthy ones. And we'll be keeping a close eye on the site as it continues to rise.