The tiny, constricting footprint of Manhattan is one of the things that turned it into a real estate juggernaut. At the same time, developers and futurists have dreamt of permanently expanding the city into the water around it. And they’re still trying.
You may remember the plan from a few months ago, when DNA Info and Business Insider brought us news that a plan to build a huge island in the Hudson River, connected to the southwestern edge of Manhattan by a walkway, was granted approval by the Hudson River Park Trust. The $130 million project is being financed largely by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, will be devoted to “the arts,” and features acres of parkland and several performance spaces.
Now that it’s gained approval from the conservancy group devoted to the area, the plan will go on to seek approval from other officials, and it’s currently under environmental review. It’s starting to look a lot more real, though, with renderings from the design firm in charge of the project, Thomas Heatherwick, showing a lush, undulating landscape heaped with wildflowers, nooks, and a conspicuous lack of garbage.
Exactly how much land would this add to NYC’s footprint? Almost three acres—which is only a tiny fraction of Manhattan’s some 21,000 acres.
But this project has plenty of precedent, and as we await news of its likely approval, now seems like a good time to recall all the other times that developers and engineers have worked to expand Manhattan’s western edge into the Hudson—practically since the Dutch arrived. We’ve featured many of those projects, both failed and successful, here on Gizmodo.
For example, for a number of years in mid-1800s, there was even a 13th Avenue in the city, created by artificially infilling the Hudson. It didn’t last—only a few blocks remain of the faux-avenue today:
But filling in the mighty Hudson was just too lucrative of a plan to ignore.
In the 1930s, there was an engineer named Norman Sper who wrote excitedly of his proposal to pave over the entirety of the river and infill it with a layer cake of roads, train tunnels, and valuable real estate.
Just 12 years later, in a LIFE article, the businessman and real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf proposed a new airport for the city—situated, yep, right on the Hudson. The airport would stretch a full 144 blocks, according to Untapped Cities, and its runways would actually sit on top of the building itself.
And then, of course, there are the successful infill projects—the ones that are far less memorable, perhaps, because they’re now simply part of the city’s grid.
Battery Park City, for example, expanded a huge chunk of the city about .2 miles out into the River—using land that was excavated from the digging of the World Trade Center’s foundation.
As far as infill plans go, Diller’s seems pretty innocuous. Still, it’s interesting to realize that the construction technology that’s going into its development has remained pretty similar since the Dutch first started infilling chunks of the river with stones and refuse to create piers in the 17th century—and that, in the end, the motives behind expanding the footprint remain roughly the same as they were 300 years ago.
I’ve corrected and edited this post after I misstated the date of the Hudson River Park Trust’s approval, which actually occurred in February. My apologies.
Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.