Neotraditional planning, aka New Urbanism, is sometimes derided as little more than picket fences and period lamp posts, but there are pragmatic virtues to urban patterns that date back to prehistory. In the case of Battery Park City, a 1969 plan for the 92-acre Lower Manhattan landfill had envisioned megastructure-inspired residential structures on superblock parcels, but after one such complex was built, developers couldn’t be induced to build more. In the 1980s, the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority—a public corporation that oversees the development of the site—turned to the architect-planners Cooper, Eckstut Associates, who came up with a grid of streets, interspersed with intimate squares, along which developers could build and market apartment buildings of familiar form and scale. (All of the post-1984 housing is market rate, with the authority promising over $1 billion of its revenues to date for low- and moderate-income housing elsewhere in the city.)
The deliberately incremental build-out of the development—reflecting economic cycles—is now reaching completion. At its center is the massive World Financial Center office and retail complex designed by Cesar Pelli. Community facilities include public schools, a branch library, a cineplex, and a boat basin. Lining the 1.2-mile waterfront is a well-designed esplanade, punctuated effectively by sculptures at environmental scale by such artists as Mary Miss and Martin Puryear. Infilling the precinct are residential buildings, with some street-level retail, by many nationally known architects. The 1980s buildings display rather historicist exteriors; more recent ones are sleekly modern, with some masonry or terra-cotta cladding to meet design guidelines.
While the archetype of New Urbanist planning is often considered to be Seaside, Fla., largely a second-home community (also a 1984 P/A Citation winner), Battery Park City has demonstrated the effectiveness of time-tested development patterns at the metropolitan core.