Lower Manhattan, the core of New York City for almost four centuries, remains a work in progress. Since the middle of the 20th century, it has been compelled to change by events ranging from the rise of containerized shipping to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the rising waters of Sandy. Effectively one of the largest building sites in the world today, Lower Manhattan is once again remaking itself.
There is no perfect formula for the arts’ role in this reinvention, but the arts can provide an opportunity for Lower Manhattan to develop an identity as a place of innovation. For inspiration, it may be useful to look away from the cultural facilities of an earlier generation and toward initiatives that exemplify connections between the knowledge economy, the arts, and community—such as the new BRIC Arts/Media/Urban Glass project opening this year in the retrofitted Strand Theater in Downtown Brooklyn. Lower Manhattan isn’t Brooklyn, but, despite its greater cost and density, its success as a multidimensional place calls for an investment in culture that is as “downtown” as it is in the borough across the East River.
This study began by assessing the viability of a new performing arts center on the Lower Manhattan waterfront—a design that could stand up to the iconic site of the city on the harbor and change the “postcard” of New York. Based on the analysis of interviews, research, and site visits, it is clear that a single edifice can no longer exemplify New York’s culture of the arts; the city can no longer be symbolized by one image. To accurately reflect today’s dynamic and multicentered culture of the arts requires not one postcard but a set of them: a performance-art dinner on Governors Island, a film screening at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a theatrical performance in Battery Park City, and a participatory dance event on the East River Esplanade. Success looks different now.
Success Looks Different Now: Design and Cultural Vitality in Lower Manhattan is a publication of The Architectural League of New York. All Rights Reserved. The report was made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support was provided by the J. Clawson Mills Fund of the Architectural League of New York. To inquire about obtaining a copy of the complete report, email firstname.lastname@example.org