Plan to Expand Manhattan Isn’t New

Jason Barr revives a century-old proposal.

Manhattan New York map
Barr’s plan (Daily Mail)

Jason M. Barr, an economist who specializes in the history of skyscrapers, has revived an old idea in The New York Times: to expand Manhattan.

Barr writes that the city is confronted by two major crises: a dearth of affordable housing and the threat of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Barrs calls for reclaiming 1,760 acres of land, roughly the size of the Upper West Side. With the same density, this new stretch of land could accommodate almost 180,000 new homes.

It’s not a new idea. T. Kennard Thomson, an engineer, argued for filling in the East River and extending Manhattan to the south in 1911. His plan also involved widening the Harlem River and digging a new East River east of Brooklyn that would empty into Jamaica Bay.

In the 1930s, publicist and engineering scholar Norman Sper suggested damming the Hudson River instead to create around ten square miles of land west of Manhattan. His plan also involved widening the Harlem River in order to allow for sufficient drainage into the East River. See Unbuilt New York for more.

Like Barr, Thompson and Sper argued the astronomical cost of reclaiming so much land would eventually pay off. Judging by similar land reclamations around the world, notably in Hong Kong, the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates, they are probably right. What’s lacking is the political will.

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