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New York's creative solution to a growing urban population

As more people make the city their home, New York has turned to air above major transportation hubs to find a solution

May 21, 2019

The urban population around the world continues to grow—in fact, it is estimated that across the globe, four billion people make their homes in cities or urban areas, which is expected to grow 54% by the year 2050. As a result, cities are being forced to get creative to accommodate the additional population. One unique solution has been above open-air transportation hubs.

In New York, a project is underway that will utilize the space above railroads to help alleviate some of the urban housing pressure. The Hudson Yards project, upon completion, will include a 26-acre neighborhood, including 17 million square feet of office, retail and apartment space, built above over 30 active train tracks. The key to this development will be the two platforms that will be placed over the tracks. With help from 3D modeling, engineers have been able to place these platforms while not disrupting the train operations.

To make things slightly more difficult, all the work had to be completed in conjunction with the Long Island Railroad to ensure that trains can continue to operate on schedule throughout construction. In standard construction projects, once demolition of an existing structure is complete, the team has access to the entire site and can start to build the foundation in its entirety. In this project, however, the development team must first work to secure the foundation while working with and around the operation of the rail yard, making sure each step they take won’t disrupt service.

The idea of using the space above transit hubs is not unprecedented in New York City. In the early 20th century, the city saw a similar project take place at Grand Central Terminal. Much of Park Avenue is a platform that is suspended above the train tracks that lead into the terminal, and people have no idea that trains are moving below them. The Hudson Yards team hopes the same is true for their project.

While a stigma exists that a development above a major transportation hub is not desirable, the use of technology and design solutions helps draw people to these projects. By allowing buyers or renters to have certain levels of control over interiors, it makes the properties more marketable to consumers. With that, the ease of commuting into these areas has made people more inclined to buy in. If the location is good enough, things will fall into place, especially as cities continue to feel the pressures of a growing urban population, and as more of these types of developments are commissioned, the more open people will be to the idea.

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