When, at long last, they finish erecting the steel skeleton of the final edifice of what may or may not one day be thought of as the Great Manhattan Building Boom, I will be sad. From my fifth-floor windows on Great Jones Street and Bowery, I have been ensorcelled by the crane ballet for … what is it now? Three years? Four? And, frankly, I have had more of a love than hate relationship with the relentless progression of new buildings: the Bowery Hotel; the Cooper Square Hotel (or, as everyone now calls it, “Dubai”); the sprawling hideousness of the Avalon Bowery Place; the bosomy new Bond (Street) Girls; the sublime New Museum; the roundly detested Charles Gwathmey building on Astor Place; and— the underdog favorite of all “my construction projects,” as I have taken to calling them—the oddly slender, oddly set-back, ever-so-slowly rising “me too!” condo building across Bowery between 3rd and 4th Streets.
It’s not that I don’t share in the general sense of worry about the “changing character” of the neighborhood. I’m as weirded out as anyone by the idea of a John Varvatos/CBGB/boutique/museum/whatever. But I will gladly take buildings of so-called inappropriate scale with street-level restaurants and shops over trash-strewn, weed-choked, chain-link-fenced lots— or even obsolescent buildings that have outlived their usefulness. For much of the past year, I watched in horror as workmen crawled all over a turn-of-the-century Cooper Union building, taking it down one giant hunk of limestone at a time. It was the central element of my view, and I thought my heart would break when that last old-worldy slab of stone was carted away. But guess what? I don’t miss that squat, ugly thing at all. Any moment now, a nine-story steel-and-glass building designed by Morphosis will begin to rise in its place, and I am guessing that it will be a lot more fun to look at.
Behold the wonders of a dynamic city! Take a tour of the construction projects in your neighborhood and count the number of stories that have risen in recent weeks. It holds the same strangely comforting appeal as watching one of those nature programs in which time-lapse photography allows you to comprehend a process that is normally too slow for the impatient human to detect. (The starfish can grow a new arm in just a few days!) It is an awesome treat. We are living at a time in New York City when we have the rare chance to see how efficiently and inevitably the creature that we take for granted can regenerate itself, how it so ruthlessly sheds its old, weathered skin for a shiny new one.