The Second Avenue Subway, first planned by Dutch settlers, should be greeted with open arms by long-suffering, transit-deprived Upper East Siders, and it will be—if it ever opens. But in the meantime, the controversies keep on comin'. So far we've heard from business owners complaining about constant construction, residents forced out of their homes for subway infrastructure, and neighbors losing their natural light. Now, those above-ground elements are receiving a fresh wave of criticism. There are eight ventilation shafts (two for each station) planned for the first phase of the subway, and you may have noticed that they are, like, hideously ugly. What gives?
In the December issue of The Real Deal, Sarah Ryley tracks the process that led to such imposing structures, which will cool the subterranean stations (sidewalk grates no longer conform to building codes) and house mechanical equipment and emergency exits. In 2001, DMJM+Harris and Arup were selected to design the entire subway and the structures, and the project's Final Environment Impact Statement called for buildings that mimicked the size and look of neighborhood row houses. Many of the buildings have grown taller than four or five stories, and an MTA spokesman says the phony row house thing was just one concept.
Clearly the MTA decided to go with another concept, and now neighbors and officials are lining up to take shots at the "parking garages" and their utilitarian facades. Part of the worry: Declining property values caused by the behemoths (appraiser Jonathan Miller predicts 5% to 20% declines for neighbors who lose windows and views). And don't laugh at the UESers' misfortune, fellow East Siders, because the designs may be repeated all along the Second Avenue Subway, from Hanover Square up to 125th Street. The MTA has made some concessions on size and other details, but some want a design contest to decide the look of the shafts. Hey, speaking of MTA concessions...
Another curious Second Avenue Subway design element: mid-block canopied entrances, like the ones planned for 72nd Street. Habitat magazine reports on a group of co-ops that banded together once the MTA quietly relocated the "soccer goals" from street corners to their proposed mid-block locations. After two years of fighting, the MTA backed off and moved the glassy contraptions back. Now some residents on 86th Street are trying to do the same thing. So many battles, and only another 100 years or so left to fight them.