The Demolition of Manhattanville

August 31, 2011 -

Not long ago, the streets of Manhattanville were lined with small businesses. Gas stations, auto body shops, parking garages and storage buildings stood alongside popular restaurants, creating a unique mixed-use neighborhood. Today, that neighborhood has largely been demolished. Businesses have been shuttered. Warehouses have been reduced to cracked bricks. In total, seventeen acres in the heart of this historic industrial valley will be destroyed and Manhattanville will be a construction site for the next two decades, as Columbia University completes its plan to build a $7 billion campus extension.

This past December, the state of New York won the final round in a six year battle against the last private property owners inside Columbia University's project footprint. The owners had been fighting against the state's decision to use eminent domain to seize their property and hand it over to the university. The battle went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to hear the property owners' appeal. "In all likelihood... the battle is over," the NY Times wrote after the decision, and since then the demolition of Manhattanville has proceeded quickly.

Barricade Road

Sinkhole and Pigeon

The blocks condemned by the university's plan already feel desolate and abandoned. Huge vacant lots are filled with dirt, debris and heavy equipment. Emptied buildings are marked by the symbols of planned demolition. A sinkhole idles in the middle of an unused road, clogged with trash. Sidewalks are inaccessible, streets lined with barricades. "The Manhattanville expansion will, by Columbia’s own estimates, displace 5,000 people," according to the Columbia Spectator, creating a temporary ghost town while the project is underway. Residents who remain in the area complain that a "rat epidemic" has been unleashed by construction activity, according to the Columbia Spectator, while others fear the swirling clouds of demolition dust will cause respiratory illness, according to DNAinfo, leading the university to buy air conditioners for at least one apartment tower.

A century ago, these empty streets teemed with horses. Manhattanville's long industrial history includes thriving dairy factories with stables that sent out "wagons to drop off thousands of bottles every morning to individual customers," according to the NY Times, alongside "factories producing lumber, paint, beer, dye and other materials." Columbia has already demolished at least one historic stable, and Manhattanville's industrial heritage will soon be consigned to the past. The majority of street traffic today is from yellow cabs refueling at the neighborhood's two remaining gas stations. They are scheduled to be torn down too.

If all goes according to plan, the Manhattanville campus will be completed by 2033. However, "of the 17 planned buildings on campus, the specific uses of only six have been determined," according to the Columbia Spectator, and in the meantime, the failing economy has led the Village Voice to ask "will NYC's college building boom bubble pop?" For now, Manhattanville's empty lots and demolished businesses wait for their promised transformation.

For more photo essays on neighborhoods endangered by eminent domain, please visit The Bloomberg Era, Part Two (2010), Manhattanville: Phase One (2008), The Iron Triangle (2008), and The Atlantic Yards (2007).

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Demolition

Crushed Warehouse and Diner

Demolition Debris

Viaduct and Empty Lot

Jesus is Good

Crossed Cranes

Manhattanville Houses and Cranes

Cleaning Up

Condemned Home and Dumpster

Condemned MTA Warehouse

Idle Garage

Gate N

Brick Field

Richmond Parkway Interchange

August 11th, 2011 -

In his quest to radically transform New York City's built environment, Robert Moses left behind many scars on the land, blighting communities with wastelands and ruins. One reminder of the Master Builder's incomplete mission to redesign the city's infrastructure still hovers above Staten Island. Moses built more than 400 miles of parkways during his long reign, but the Richmond Parkway Interchange - one mile of twisting concrete paths - is a symbol of his final days in power. It has been abandoned for 45 years.

The Richmond Parkway "was originally intended to be 9.5 miles long" according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, and would have connected southern Staten Island to the Staten Island Expressway via the Richmond Parkway Interchange, providing quick access to the nearby Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was completed in 1964 as "the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses," according to Wikipedia. The plan for the parkway was to cut through what is now the Staten Island Greenbelt, tearing down pristine forests, threatening Pouch Camp and devastating the Blood Root Valley. The southern section of the parkway - known today as the Korean War Veterans Parkway - had already been completed and construction of the interchange was well underway: "Earth and rock blasted away for the highway was hauled to a remote area eventually forming a 260-foot-high mound ironically nicknamed 'Moses Mountain',” according to the Greenbelt Conservancy.

Abandoned Ramp into the Greenbelt

Mt. Moses Leftovers

The Richmond Parkway Interchange was nearly complete before members of the community were able to stop the planned destruction of the Greenbelt. "Intrepid citizen-activists vigorously protested the highway and won their battle," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy, and "in 1966 Mayor John Lindsay ordered a halt" to construction on the northern section of the Richmond Parkway, according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. The victory helped galvanize the creation of the Greenbelt, "the largest of New York City’s five flagship parks," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy, with "more than 2,800 acres of public and private land." For Robert Moses, who had "thrust many of New York's great ribbons of concrete across an older and largely settled urban landscape," according to the NY Times, it was a rare defeat at the end of a long career, and "his last significant hold on power was lost in 1968."

The Richmond Parkway Interchange remains abandoned today, covered in juvenile graffiti from a nearby high school and littered with empty liquor bottles. The curving roads above the Staten Island Expressway are spotted with weeds, while trees and shrubs have reclaimed the inland ramps. On the side of the road, cars rust in the woods, tree trunks in their engine blocks, like some post-apocalyptic version of a city once ruled by automobiles.

Upper Road Entrance

Upper Deck

High School Party

Lower Deck

Over the Staten Island Expressway

Empty Concrete

Sunnyside Gaelic

Vanishing Road

Guard Rail

Overgrown Chrome

Forest Smile

Wrecked Car

End Of The Road