980 Madison Avenue: Sacrificing the One to Save the Many

In Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser brings up the case of 980 Madison Avenue in the chapter “What’s So Great about Skyscrapers?” After a development plan was proposed in the Upper East Side Historic District to a building which was not landmarked, the outcry of nearby residents failed to sway the opinions of the New York Landmarks Commission. The building did not have any elements of high historical significance, and the expansion plan that was proposed kept the façade of the structure intact. Glaeser points to the idea that by choosing not to give in to the influence of the wealthy and connected residents of the Upper East Side, it will give the Commission an advantage in the future when trying to save more historically significant sites.

By using this case as an example of sacrificing the few to save the many, Glaeser ignored many other aspects of the case. Yes, Aby Rosen did own the rights to build a glass tower that would extend from the Sotheby-Parke-Bernet Building and part of the plan was to restore the main building to its original construction, but is the addition of eighteen condominiums to the dense urban landscape of the Upper East Side worth it in the end? The proposed expansion did more than restrict natural light to its neighboring buildings, it would partially obstruct the view of the Carlyle Hotel from Central Park which does hold a long history of cultural significance.

I believe that Tom Wolfe took his claim that “To take their theory to its logical conclusion would be to develop Central Park…When you consider the thousands and thousands of people who could be house in Central Park if they would only allow them to build it up, boy, the problem is on the way to being solved!” a little too far. Continuing to add to dense environments does limit the growth in green areas, but there needs to be control of unmitigated growth in culturally and historically significant areas like the streetscapes that surround Central Park.

Nothing yet has been built at 980 Madison Avenue, but developer Aby Rosen is continuing to propose expansion to the historic Parke-Bernet Building to the New York Landmarks Commission. His latest proposal in 2008 of another version of the stark, glass tower was denied due to poor aesthetic value.

Sources:

Glaeser, Edward. Triumph of the City. “Chapter 6: What’s So Great about Skyscrapers?”

The City Review: “The Redevelopment of 980 Madison Avenue” (May 14, 2008)

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