Editorial: Downtown's Water Street needs post-Sandy lift
Water Street urgently needs a post-Sandy face-lift.
It was once part of a lower Manhattan neighborhood that had a "certain elegant dinginess," as philanthropist and businessman David Rockefeller has noted -- a place, he recalled, where bankers and longshoremen regularly rubbed elbows "because all of us were in the same business: trade." That world vanished in the 1960s.
Century-old buildings near the East River were razed. Water Street was straightened into a four-lane speedway. And a forest of sparkling new office towers formed the spine of a successful '70s-era state-of-the-art commuter downtown that flourished during business hours but -- unfortunately -- stood eerily empty the rest of the time.
Today the area around Water Street has changed again -- to a vital mixed-use neighborhood of 60,000 residents, 11.5 million visitors a year and 312,000 workers a day.
But Water Street itself remains underused.
Now a major artery between the South Street Seaport and Battery Park, serving America's fourth-largest central business district, it still grows quiet when the sun goes down. It has long needed a pedestrian-friendly makeover.
And Sandy only intensified its dilemma, flooding street-level retail shops and restaurants, knocking out phone service and temporarily displacing major offices.
To its credit, the Bloomberg administration is working on a smart plan to breathe new life into the street.
Wednesday the Planning Commission was weighing a proposal to allow attractions like food kiosks, farmers' markets and art exhibitions within the street's many alcoves and mini-parks. The city also wants to calm the Water Street truck and taxi raceway by shrinking the street to one lane southbound from Old Slip to Whitehall.
Best of all, the city wants to bar traffic in Gouverneur Lane and Coenties Slip, old spaces that graced Manhattan long before motor traffic. In the place of honking vans and grinding trucks, the liberated streets could provide room for tables and chairs for weary pedestrians. Let's hope it happens. This is how a great city adapts and stays strong.