A Different Midtown Manhattan

My lasting memories of Manhattan are from a time long long ago when I was a graduate student at what was then The State University of New York at Stony Brook. It was nice to be back last weekend in Manhattan to experience the space once again.

Some aspects of the Midtown Manhattan experience have not changed with time. There is the palpable energy of the city which remains the same as before. The hustle and bustle of the city hits all your senses and makes you feel alive! There are crowds everywhere. The tourist is everywhere. The sidewalks and crosswalks are filled with pedestrians dodging incoming foot traffic. Traffic on the streets and avenues looks chaotic. The place is noisy as heck. People are impatient as heck!

But, there have also been some changes to the place. During the early 1980s New York City was still in the process of recovering from the near bankruptcy of 1975. Things feels somewhat different these days. There is more of a sense of prosperity. The place is not as grungy, gritty and grimy as it used to be. The subway looked cleaner than in the past. I did not get as much smell of urine in the stairways and walkways as I used to. The subway cars looked clean. The graffiti also seems to have gone. The places where we walked felt safer than in the past. The storefronts and shops looked well maintained. There seems to be enough capital available to keep things moving. Places like Times Square and the area around Madison Square Garden appear to have been cleaned up, etc..

There were other infrastructure changes in the area that caught my eye. Our first stop in Manhattan was at Hudson Yards. There is a new underground subway station here that opened up for business in 2015. It is the new terminal for the Number 7 train, which used to operate only up to Times Square in the past. The station and its surroundings are really nice. One emerges to the street level to an area of Manhattan that will be under development for the next few years. There are already a few skyscrapers that have come up in the neighborhood.

At Hudson Yards we saw what was supposed to be the centerpiece of the future development of this area – a piece of architecture called Vessel. Vessel has had an troubled and controversial opening. One wonders how long this structure will survive. Next to Vessel is The Shed, a place for the arts (as I understand it).

After coming home, I did some research to discover that the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has a new storage yard for its trains in the Hudson Yards area. The yard is currently in the open, not covered over, but the full development of Hudson Yards will result in the railroad yard going underground – under all the new buildings that are supposed to come up over the tracks.

I also learnt that since my time in the New York area, Amtrak has restored the once defunct West Side Line in Manhattan in order to support train service from the north directly into Penn station. The connection from the new West Side Line into Penn Station goes under LIRR’s Hudson Yards, and allows Amtrak’s trains running on The Empire Corridor (into New York State and beyond) to avoid having to use Grand Central Station. This change has allowed Amtrak to consolidate all of its services in Manhattan into a single location. Previously, they had to lease space in Grand Central Station and provide shuttle service between the two stations.

We had come to the Hudson Yards area in order to get on to the High Line near its northern end. This elevated park did not exist during my time at Stony Brook. The High Line park runs on the viaduct that originally used to carry the overhead tracks of the West Side Line down to the southern part of Manhattan.

We only stayed on the High Line for a few blocks. It would be worth further exploration in the future, from end to end, if the opportunity arises. The High Line has already become an extremely popular tourist destination.

The next discovery was the new Moynihan Train Hall serving trains running into Penn Station. The hall has been built within the confines of the existing James A. Farley Building, just west of the existing concourse for Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden.
This is an amazing change from the old station concourse.

I was already familiar with the changes that have occurred around Times Square, the next place we visited, because of a few more recent trips to the place. It has become a family friendly destination, quite different from the sketchy area that it used to be in the early 1980s. The place has become more pedestrian friendly. It always used to attract big crowds.

Midtown Manhattan today looks like a happening place. This part of town had a very different vibe to it in the early 1980s, one that was perhaps better appreciated by a young, penniless, and somewhat carefree graduate student.