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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Future of Open Spaces on the Upper West Side


Parks and open spaces on Manhattan's Upper West Side are an important resource for people from all parts of New York City. Central Park and Riverside Park -- which are neighborhood amenities for Upper West Siders -- are two of the city's greatest treasures. These parks, both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, provide a natural setting against the backdrop of the city; they are places where people can take refuge from high-density living conditions to relax or play.

More and more people are living or working on the Upper West Side, and the number is likely to increase. Around Lincoln Center and along Broadway several high-rise apartment buildings have been built in the past few years; more are proposed. In the district near the southwest edge of Central Park, developers have a number of high-rise office and residential structures on the drawing boards, including 58- and 68-story towers for the Coliseum site at Columbus Circle. If completed, these projects would continue the midtown skyline into an area that today consists of much lower buildings. The largest development will take place along the Hudson River on the old Penn Central Railyard between 59th and 72nd Streets.

What will the impact of these projects be on Central Park, Riverside Park, and the other open spaces of the Upper West Side?

On the one hand, these open spaces will be increasingly vital resources as the population grows. On the other, it is likely that the projects, individually and cumulatively, will adversely affect neighborhood open spaces, streets, and parkland.

Previous studies have focused on the quality and distribution of open spaces in the Upper West Side in relation to the characteristics of the population of the area. This study focuses on urban design issues, chiefly on people's need for comfort, sunlight and air in open spaces and the impact of new development on these aspects of the Upper West Side's microclimate.

This study was prepared on behalf of the Parks Council of New York City. The study area is bounded by 58th Street in the south to 81st Street in the north, and from 5th Avenue in the east to the Hudson River in the west. The photographs, diagrams and analysis contained in this report were displayed at the Urban Center during December 1987 and January 1988 in an exhibit called "The Future of Open Spaces on the Upper West Side."

The first half of this report consists of a summary of the exhibit. The second half reviews the issues and makes recommendations about the shape of future development on the Upper West Side and how sunlight and wind considerations can be built into the planning process to protect parks and open spaces throughout the city.

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