Paul Goldberger, Cities, Urban Design, Interview, Q/A, COVID-19, New York, Hudson Yards, Commercial Real Estate
In recent weeks, weâ€™ve seen an explosion of internet speculation about the â€śfuture of cities.â€ť Apparently, they are either doomedâ€”or destined to prevail. The office is dead (obviously), the office tower (especially tall ones) clearly a building type in need of a proper funeral. All kinds of chatter has subsequently ensued (we have time on our hands) about the dire outlook for public space, the impending collapse of public transportation, the inevitable return to the suburbs, even the (gasp!) demise of the luxury cruise ship. Weâ€™ll see; weâ€™re still wandering around in the dark here and might be for some time. With that somber thought in mind, I reached out to Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer prize winning architecture critic and urbanist, for what I felt certain would be a nuanced and measured take on our presently fraught moment. (A note: we spoke prior to the protests, which have erupted in American cities in response to the murder of George Floyd.) For the most part, we resisted the urge to make sweeping and almost certainly premature predictions about our urban future.
MCP:Martin C. Pedersen PG:Paul Goldberger
MCP: Thereâ€™s been so much noise going around in pieces about the future of density, the future of New York, and the future of cities. What do you make of all this?
PG: Frankly, it makes me crazy, especially the amount of it, and the extent to which people are jumping to conclusions. People are using the pandemic to justify whatever their view of urban issues and density always was. Joel Kotkin declares, This proves that density is over, which is exactly what heâ€™s always been saying. And Richard Florida says, This proves that the creative class wants the city. Janette Sadik-Khan says, This proves that we need to open the streets. I remember reading Foreign Policy Magazineâ€™s round up of 12 experts, and feeling that every writer was just making his or her familiar argument, this time presented as the inevitable consequence of Covid-19. John King in the San Francisco Chronicle more recently wrote an entire piece making that very same point: everybody was using the pandemic to justify whatever their hobby horse was.
MCP: And yet, and yet, and yet, this thing strikes at the heart of cities.
PG: Of course it does. I make a very major distinction between the short term and the long term. I think, in the short term, there is absolutely no question that this is devastating to cities, because density is the lifeblood of cities. Unfortunately itâ€™s also the lifeblood of the virus. Weâ€™ve seen the virus spread more quickly in cities. In the short term, people will not want to be together in public, and being together in the public realm is what the city is all about. Of course, it doesnâ€™t help to have the incredible mismanagement and politicization that we have in this country, but nevertheless, even in places that have been managed better and not overly politicized, urban areas are still rife with transmission. But then jumping to the conclusion that cities are therefore finished is absurd. But we are unquestionably in for a very difficult period.
MCP: Architecture is certainly in for a rough patch as well. Letâ€™s just say you were a firm like KPF, who make a lot of their money designing 80-story office buildings, how would you pivot now? It doesnâ€™t seem like thereâ€™s going to be a huge need for office space.
PG: I canâ€™t believe that there will be. But that market was overbuilt or approaching saturation anyway.
MCP: Were there vacancies at Hudson Yards?
PG: Plenty of condos, yes, but not so much office space. They were doing reasonably well in that category, but thatâ€™s because it was big, new open space with large floor plates, which corporations wanted. These new towers, however, were creating enormous vacancies elsewhere in Manhattan that were not getting snapped up. So even though Hudson Yards did surprisingly well, it was kind of like a car dealer whoâ€™s doing a lot of leases on new cars. It looks very cool on paper. But then the lot is filled with three year old returned lease cars that nobodyâ€™s taking. There was a lot of office space available on Third Avenue and Sixth Avenue that was being vacated.
Of course the future of the office is another area where everybody is jumping to conclusions. There are people who say: â€śOkay, social distancing, we