Monday, March 18, 2019

Visiting Hudson Yards

For its opening weekend, Hudson Yards, aka Dubai on the Hudson, is crammed with people. They walk the glistening floors of the luxury shopping mall and climb The Vessel, aka The Giant Shawarma (h/t Eater). They stand in line for free ice cream and ransack a refrigerator full of foul-tasting beverages that may or may not be free. They pose for Instagrammable photos with the mega-development's corporate logo and pay $28 to visit Snark Park, an "art theme park" where the creators have seized an opportunity to "literally control and curate everything," which pretty much sums up everything about Hudson Yards.

In my 2017 book Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, I predicted that Hudson Yards would be: "A dreamworld of of those places Mike Davis describes in Evil Paradises: 'where the rich can walk like gods in the nightmare gardens of their deepest and most secret desires.' It will be what Norwegian urbanist Jonny Aspen calls zombie urbanism, a neat and tedious stage set, regurgitating global clichés about modern urban life, 'in which there is no room for irregularity and the unexpected.'"

Now the taxpayer-backed mega-development has met its major critics and the verdict is in.

New York magazine called it "a billionaire's fantasy city" as Justin Davidson reported that it feels like a faux New York: "Everything is too clean, too flat, too art-directed." At the Times, Michael Kimmelman said the place "glorifies a kind of surface spectacle -- as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism."

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the gilded room that hawks the Residences at Hudson Yards. Just outside, in the hall of the mall, a massive video screen shows scenes from the lifestyles of the super-rich to a captive audience of tired parents and tourists beached on benches.

Inside, behind 3-D renderings of the towers, visitors watch a film about the love story between Marcus, "the titan of industry," and Viv, "the fashion mogul." They are affluent, glaringly white, and well seasoned, sweeping around their tower while sucking down lattes and green smoothies. In the background plays I'm back in the "New York Groove," which Hudson Yards is decidedly not.

Among the viewers in the real world, a woman asks her friend, "Is this a parody?" The question could be asked again and again while walking through the mall.

For example, when a worker hands out Hudson Yards temporary tattoos so you can brand your body with the corporate logo. Or when a piece of video art, curated by a luxury boutique, praises itself for including "gender nonconforming artists."

Or at the Avant Gallery, showing "art for the new New York" in a show called, no kidding, "There Goes the Neighborhood," filled with riffs on luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, mixed with images of homeless people and downtown artists.

Is it parody when a crowd crashes the unguarded refrigerators of the Hudson Yards Drug Store and grabs every bottle in sight, swigging down concoctions containing charcoal, rose petal, and turmeric? People gag on the drinks, re-cap the bottles, and leave them on the floor.

Someone says, "It tastes awful."

Someone says, "I don't think these are really free."

Then there's the schedule for The Shed, Hudson Yards' hotly awaited performance space, bringing a lefty radicalism incongruent with the one-percenter playground. The opening season includes "a women-centered celebration of radical art," a work about "the relationship between art and the politics of space," and a lecture on Art and Civil Disobedience by Boots Riley, the African-American Communist behind the film Sorry to Bother You. (It's part of their DIS OBEY program.)

Will young communists soon fill this billionaire fantasy anti-city--and will they be disobedient?

Finally, there's The Vessel, that walkable "stairway to nowhere" that the billionaire developer of Hudson Yards called "the social climber." To walk it, you'll have to agree to an acknowledgment of risks that "may include, for example, slipping, being knocked off balance, falling, exposure to heights (which may cause vertigo, nausea, or discomfort), exposure to flashing or intermittent special effects or lighting, personal injury, or death." One other risk: If you appear in any photos, including your own, you sign away "the unrestricted, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual right and license (with the right to transfer or sublicense) to use my name, likeness, voice, and all other aspects of my persona."

The Vessel's hornet's nest logo is on everything, but nowhere does its silhouette most excite me than when it accidentally appears on the side of a nearby food truck--The Giant Shawarma mirrored by an actual shawarma.

As I escape Hudson Yards, I point out the similarity to the vendor inside the truck. "Yes," he calls out, seeing the joke, "the same! It is the same!" And he has a good laugh. In the end, it all seems like one big joke.

Read all my Hudson Yards coverage here


Krejci, Robert H. said...

I am so sad and speechless.

JLTR said...

Build it and they won't come.
You can't build a neighborhood, especially a cold sterile one. Neighborhoods require neighbors and small businesses.
PS I think the Vessel looks like a used coffee filter! 😉

brianmack said...

Jeremiah, as I posted before, your book is awesome and forget about your blog. You're one of the few links to the past and a person who deeply understands NYC, bygone and now its demises. Nothing lasts forever but on behalf of those who read your posts religiously, stick around my friend. Visting Hudson Yards, another note of brilliance. Brian

Unknown said...

This feels like a Rubicon to me. I think they've opened this at the wrong time in history. 5 years ago it may have been welcomed better.

Unknown said...


JM said...

Incredible. So Bloombergian, it's nauseating.

Ronny Venable said...

The Giant Shawarma!! I believe we have the winner of the Name the Thing contest!!

Michael Penn Photography said...

You know what Jeremiah, I'm not an emotional person but I've almost broken into tears about what's being forced on us in the major cities today. I have no idea when the masses will wake up and realize that none of this is occurring naturally. I have a feeling that if the new urban dwellers bothered to look up from their phones they wouldn't be entirely happy with what's going on. The future will not be kind to this period in time.

Deb said...

Just build a giant dome over it and the real "Truman Show" can begin...all controlled, all devised, all art directed ...then us "poor folk" can become addicted to it !

John K said...

Your blog posts over the years leading up to this taxpayer-subsidized billionaire boondoggle, the dream of Dan Doctoroff, Amanda Burden, Mike Bloomberg, and the other agents of hypergentrification, were always rousing and often poignant, but your description of this new sterile zombie urbanist temple to (or of?) neoliberalism is the best and most concise diagnosis and analysis I've seen so far. The Giant Shawarma also looks like a gutted pineapple and a trash can (or waste bin), and the warnings about it you mention make it that much less appealing, much like the $28 required (for now?) to enter that artistically devoid but IG-friendly Snark Park. This is the capitalist spectacle in material form, a hypersurveilled and managed simulacrum of a city-within-a-city whose sole purpose appears to be transactional commerce, yet pitched at a level that most people in the larger city cannot afford, which is part of the point. It's emblematic of where this country and so many other "wealthy" societies are today; in inviting those DIS OBEDIENT artists they're daring them--and anyone else--to truly protest, to resist the inexorable reverse socialist transformation of our economy and society that's been underway since the 1980s. Don't think AOC/Sanders/Warren don't, at some level, scare the daylights out of them. This is their monument in response, to their power, a 21st century Xanadu. Will it go the way of Atlantis, though?

Richard said...

Manhattan is becoming one big mall. I like the old gritty Manhattan better when you could hunt little shops for treasure you couldn't find anywhere else. I don't shop there anymore, I can get the same stuff in Paramus and I don'y have to deal with the subway.

Downtowner said...

The only upside is that this place is on the edge of the island. You can easily avoid it.

Manqueman said...

Then there's the irony...
Trump tried to develop the area even before his first successful* "deal", the Gran Hyatt. (*Actually, the renovated Commodore is hideous, inside and out. Deal happened thanks to pols bought off by Fred Trump and by Donnie's lies to backers.)
Now, under the reign of the vile Trump the area's finally developed in something far more disgusting than anything Trump can imagine.

Brian said...

For me, the mall is awful. It is a upper class suburban mall transplanted to NYC. Maybe from Dallas or Houston. Lots of cold hard stone, escalators and stair cases. Lots of bad over flavored food and silly super expensive stores selling stuff.

Unknown said...

The final insult, the ineffable loss.

The author of Vanishing New York is vanishing himself.

Not that I blame you, Jeremiah Moss. You have served so
honorably. You have borne witness to loss upon loss,
without oversentimentalizing. You have chronicled each
flame as it is seneselessly extinguished, never losing
sight of the personal tragedies.

As a therapist, I am certain that you make this very same
existential journey with your patients. Aging is about loss.
It is human nature to take sustenance from things that are
familiar. When the landmarks are ripped away and we are
collectively transplanted into the sterile topography of
gentrification, this is called evolution.

Hole up, Jeriemiah Moss and pull down the blinds. You
deserve a rest.

brianmack said...

Unknown and all, some amazing posts. Pray Jeremiah changes his mind. His blog is like a child waiting for one's birthday. Bless you, man!!