Instrumental City: The View from Hudson Yards, circa 2022

Instrumental city: the view from hudson yards, circa 2022
The first tower at Hudson Yards opens in May 2016, with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs as a premier tenant. View east from the High Line across the West Rail Yard, Manhattan / © Shannon Mattern

The world’s most ambitious “smart city” project is here. Should we worry that New York City is becoming an experimental lab?

The observation deck won’t be finished for a few years yet. If you want to see the future of New York, walk north along the High Line, round the curve at the rail yards, and turn your back to the river. Amid the highway ramps and industrial hash of far-west Manhattan, a herd of cranes hoists I-beams into the sky. This is Hudson Yards, the largest private real-estate development in United States history and the test ground for the world’s most ambitious experiment in “smart city” urbanism.

Over the next decade, the $20-billion project — spanning seven blocks from 30th to 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues — will add 17 million square feet of commercial, residential, and civic space, much of it housed in signature architecture by the likes of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Diller Scofidio + Renfro; and Bjarke Ingels Group. But you don’t have to wait that long to see where this is headed. The first office tower, Kohn Pedersen Fox’s 10 Hudson Yards, opens next month, with direct access to the High Line. The new subway stop is already in business (and has already sprung a few leaks); an extension of the 7 train line connects the diverse, middle-class neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, with this emerging island of oligarchs.

The terminals and tunnels and tracks are still there, but now someone has flipped a switch, and a whole new section of the city is coming online. (Stick with me for a few thousand words, and you’ll understand that’s not a metaphor.) New Yorkers haven’t seen anything like this since the construction of Rockefeller Center transformed Midtown in the 1930s. Hudson Yards is even more impressive, as it rises atop two massive steel-and-concrete platforms that span a working rail yard. […]