Monday, June 10, 2013

Op Ed: A new Penn Station for New American Culture

When Madison Square Garden was constructed in the early 1960’s, America was a very different place than it is today. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, America was working on a journey to the moon and Vietnam War was just getting started. Americans were driving Pontiac GTO’s, Dodge Chargers and Plymouth Station Wagons.  You could get several gallons of leaded gasoline for a buck. Commuting to work in anything other than your car was a thing of the past. Of course today, none of those things are true. We live now in a New America working its way through its own reinvention. Habits and policies, the built environments that are supported by them must change with the times. Right now, the states of New York and New Jersey have an opportunity to symbolically represent the changing culture of America. The lease is up on Madison Square Garden (MSG) and it is time for urban planning and transportation policy to reflect a new people with new priorities. For the last 50 years the famous arena has sat atop the busiest transit terminal in the hemisphere (Frasinelli, 2013).

Above, Right: Historic Penn Station

Millions of commuters use Pennsylvania Station each year. They are served by three transportation agencies: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and The Long Island Railroad (Kimmelman, 2013). Today though, the images depicted above are historic testimony. It is now a claustrophobic labyrinth with MSG squatting atop it. Efficient though it is, New York and New Jersey are seriously considering alternatives to the current arrangement of subterranean terminal. The Madison Company which secured a 50 year permit to operate MSG above Penn Station is now operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy awarded to them by the city of New York. The permit expired last month and the Madison Company is pursuing a lease of perpetuity for continue operation of MSG in its current location indefinitely (Dunlap, 2013). Instead of a lease of perpetuity, planners of the City of New York are working out a 15 year extension (

Above are images of the current station

The expiration of this permit is an opportunity for public agencies to develop new plans for a new Penn Station. One that is more representative of a changing America. Over the next 15 years State, regional and local agencies served by Penn Station would do well to implement a trust fund policy. A fund paid into by organizations such as the City of New York, the states of New York and New Jersey and the three transit agencies that use the station would develop handsomely over 15 years. It’s enough time to make a significant down payment on a new station.
Bond measures released by these institutions will probably be inevitable. Paying for architectural masterpieces is never cheap. But statewide policies to par for what is really a public works project are appropriate. Already the transit of authorities of NYC, the regional planning of association of NYC and the Municipal Arts Society have formed the New Penn Station Alliance (Dunlap, 2013). Together they are working with the Borough of Manhattan to limit MSG’s future operations.
So there is already a strong consortium of independent interests that are working to return the station to its former glory. Of course there will be seething New York Knicks fans if MSG is removed to create a new grand train station. The arena itself is an outstanding location. Such proximity to transportation networks serviced by Penn Station is a huge boon for business. MSG has for years been an anchor to the west side of Manhattan. That is the Gardens position. That they provide thousands of jobs and support and promote economic activity through the region (Kimmelman, 2013). But Penn station does not exist for the benefit of the New York Knicks. Although MSG is currently finishing up the final steps of a $1 billion renovation, the site is better suited as a train station only.  It is a civic asset that serves millions. Policy should reflect that. As the situation currently is, 15 years is enough time to seriously begin raising funds for a new station while allowing the current tenant to find a new suitable location. In 15 years, the squatting MSG should be removed to make way for something new. That also seems like enough time for Americas best architectural firms to craft a new Penn Station that is as representative of this century as its sister Grand Central Station is of the last.

Works Cited
"Alliance for a New Penn Station Commends Time-Limited Permit for Madison Square Garden, Warns of Loophole That Could Override City’s Recommendation." Metropolitan Art Society, 22 May 2013. Web.
Dunlap, David. "Madison Square Garden Says It Will Not Be Uprooted From Penn Station." City Room Madison Square Garden Says It Will Not Be Uprooted From Penn Station Comments. New York Times, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 June 2013.
Frassinelli, Mike. "Madison Square Garden Should Move to Make Way for Roomier N.Y. Penn Station, Planners Say." The Star Ledger, 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 June 2013.
Kimmelman, Michael. "Flexibility and Moxie Can Save West Side." New York Times, 20 Mar. 2013. Web.

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