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Christine Quinn

Quinn Praises Empty Garage at East River Plaza Ribbon Cutting

4:30 PM EDT on July 20, 2010

QuinnRibbon.JPGCouncil Speaker Christine Quinn cuts the ribbon for East River Plaza and its 1,428 parking spaces. Photos: Noah Kazis

Officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the suburban-style East River Plaza shopping complex today. The fleet of cars that the city's leading politicians and developers arrived in barely registered in the mall's giant parking lot.

It's safe to say that East River Plaza will go down as an urban planning disaster for the ages, but as politicians praised the project, they gave no indication that they've absorbed lessons from its big mistake. The mall's eight levels of parking, a full 1,428 spaces, take up the better part of a city block. Those spots have mostly been sitting empty, hogging space and sucking the life out of the pedestrian environment -- a testament to the city's lax urban planning oversight and the fantastically faulty assumptions of the developer, who now admits that more people than expected are walking or taking transit to East River Plaza rather than driving.

So it was particularly jarring to hear praise for all that parking from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. She thanked the city for rezoning the area "to make it not only a place where commercial development could occur, but also a place where we could have parking, so people could come here and take those 488 rolls of toilet paper home with them, out of Costco, as I myself like to do."

Never mind that parking takes the place of what could be more retail and more jobs, or that 82.3 percent of East Harlem households don't own a car [PDF]. This empty lot is failing even as a place to store private cars. 

A ribbon cutting may not be the occasion to expect reflections on lessons learned, but today's event was a great opportunity to explore East River Plaza and document a colossal mistake that should never be repeated. Photos after the jump.

EntrytoStores.JPG

Amazingly, to get to any of East River Plaza's stores, you have to walk through the parking lot; the entrance to Costco is just behind the camera. There is no pedestrian option. On the other hand, you can exit directly from the FDR Drive into the parking lot.

TakeYourTicket.JPG

Further evidence that East River Plaza's shoppers are all assumed to be drivers: the view from each store. You walk out and face the parking lot and a sign reminding you to pay your parking ticket. That's it. Even suburban malls have a nicer environment for people walking around.

ParkingLot116th.JPG

The parking lot is simply enormous, a dead zone dominating the landscape -- in this case, 116th Street. Of course, with the FDR just east of the lot, this is an area where the automobile already dominates.

EmptyFloor3a.JPG

The lot is almost completely empty inside. To be fair, not every store in the mall is open. But floor 3a, which connects to the already open Best Buy and GameStop, was almost completely empty this morning. 

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