The Real Deal New York

A filled-in Harlem River is a developer’s dream: OPINION

Elimination of the waterway would add up to 800 acres to New York City

September 08, 2014 12:50PM

Former New York state housing commissioner Charles Urstadt and the Harlem River

Former New York state housing commissioner Charles Urstadt and the Harlem River

New York City is perpetually starved for space, thus limiting housing, commercial space and parks. But one proposed undertaking would yield an additional 400 to 800 acres: filling in the Harlem River.

So goes the proposal of Charles Urstadt, former New York state housing commissioner and namesake of 1971’s Urstadt Law, which handed Gotham’s power to pass local rent laws to the state legislature. In a Sunday op-ed in Crain’s, Urstadt argued that plugging the Harlem River would not mean foregoing a natural waterway, as the Manhattan/Bronx dividing line was crafted as a man-made shortcut between the Hudson River and the Long Island Sound in 1904.

Filling in the seven-mile-long river, which stretches 400 feet wide on average, would create a space between four and eight times the size of Battery Park City, Urstadt wrote. “Planners would have a free hand to dream big about the kinds of development New York needs most,” he opined.

Among the former housing commissioners ideas are expanding Columbia and New York University’s respective campuses to the area, or drawing schools like Stanford or MIT as Cornell came to Roosevelt Island. Housing accessed by light rail is another of his suggestions, as is the addition of a park.

“Because the land itself would be owned by the city, then rented (most likely for 99 years) to developers, the income stream would help pay for schools, parks and other amenities,” Urstadt wrote. “Moreover, as land values (and the ground rents they command) rise over time, this project would generate surplus income for the city treasury.” [Crain’s]Julie Strickland

  • David Brown

    Looking forward to the environmental impact study!

  • B. Bartell

    Now that’s about as dumb an idea as I’ve ever heard.

  • no-permits

    this man must own some property in the bronx.

  • AnoNYC

    How about upzoning neighborhoods around transit first?

  • JB

    Wow, truly absurd and based upon incorrect information. The Harlem River was always a navigable waterway between the Hudson and the Sound. A small portion was rerouted near Marble Hill. Charles was a very smart man who may be showing signs of age related impairment.

    • pisher

      I mean, if there was never a river there, how could you call Manhattan Island–you know–Manhattan Island?

      Would you want to live on land like that? It’s bound to be unstable. This isn’t like filling in a creek. Developers just think about money, all day long.

  • Guest

    insanely ridiculous

  • Realty Realist

    He’s already done enough damage. He needs to stop coming up with ideas.

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