“Before, a person entered the city like a god. Now, he enters like a mouse,” said architect Vincent Scully, of the demolition of the Pennsylvania station. In 1963, one of the most imposing buildings in the city gave way to an underground station, with narrow and discreet exits.
Almost 60 years later, accesses via openings in the sidewalks are being left behind. In January, the Moynihan Train Hall was opened, a new access to the Penn Station platforms, which has the facade of a historic building, but has an interior that looks like a modern airport. In addition to a station, Moynihan aims to be a tourist attraction, with some works of art in its interior, as well as shops and restaurants.
In September, the New York government, which undertook the renovation, announced the creation of a 370-metre pedestrian structure to link the Moynihan to the High Line, an elevator formerly used by trains that has been turned into a park.
Thus, a new tourist corridor is being created, about 2 km long, around 34th Street. The route starts at the Empire State Building (built in 1931), passes through Moynihan (2021), through Madison Square (1968), through High Line (2009) and ends at Hudson Yards (2019), a cluster of several mirrored glass office towers, the Vessel monument, which resembles a metal hive, and the newly renovated Javits Center event space.
The idea is that the news will help to recover tourism in the city, an important engine of the local economy, which used to move US$ 4 billion a year before the pandemic.
The industry is looking forward to the reopening of US borders to vaccinated international tourists, scheduled for this Monday (8). “Travelers from abroad usually represent 20% of the total of tourists in New York, but they account for 50% of the expenses. Thus, each foreign tourist is equivalent to four local tourists in terms of income. They tend to stay for more days and do more shopping.” , says Chris Heywood, vice president of global communications at NYC & Company, an entity that promotes tourism in the city.
In 2019, the city received 66.6 million visitors, including 826,000 Brazilians, estimates the organization. This year, the expectation is to reach at least 36.1 million tourists. On September 25, the Times Square region registered 274,000 people in one day, a record since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from the Times Square Alliance. In this second semester, new hotels were opened in the area and Broadway resumed the shows with full capacity in the audience, which helped to increase the circulation of visitors.
Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced that free vaccinations would be an attraction for tourists, and that vaccination posts would be scattered alongside attractions. The local tourism agencies, however, do not have data on the effectiveness of this action.
The Folha report, which spent five days in the city, noted that the free quick test tents, placed in spots like Broadway and Grand Central station, seemed to attract more audiences, with lines at various times of the day. A vaccination post in Times Square and application points inside pharmacies were understaffed.
Since August, Blasio determined that food and beverage spaces with indoor tables and leisure attractions in closed spaces started to require proof of vaccination from their attendees. This reporter had to meet the requirement every time he went to spaces like that. You can only show the photo of the vaccination card, together with an identity document. The attendants didn’t spend a lot of time reviewing documents, however.
To board public transport, you do not need proof of vaccination. Just wear a mask. Thus, one can visit the new Moynihan station without fulfilling the requirement.
The new building is adjacent to where the former Pennsylvania station once stood. It occupied two blocks and was considered one of the symbols of the city’s architecture, with Greek columns outside and a large lobby with a ceiling that was 14 meters high. When it opened in 1910, it received a thousand trains a day.
However, to deal with a drop in revenue, the company that managed it decided to demolish the building and keep only the underground platforms. The demolition allowed the land to be sold, where the Madison Square Garden sports and concert arena and a few other buildings were built.
At the time, there was a huge campaign against demolition, but the station’s owners said the costs of maintaining a structure that size were prohibitive, and they didn’t back down. Penn Station continued to operate, only underground. Even so, it received around 500,000 people a day. Trains depart from there to New Jersey, where many NY workers live, and to other cities across the country, such as Chicago and Washington.
In the 1990s, the plan to redo a dignified entrance to Penn Station gained momentum. One of the ideas was to take advantage of a neighboring building, which housed a post office, called Farley, built at the same time as the original station, in the 1910s, with a similar style, with classic columns on the façade.
The plan began to advance in 1993, but the work would only start in 2010. It took another ten years of renovation until the opening of Moynihan Train Hall, in January 2021.
The building is named after Senator Daniel Moynihan (1927-2001), a great supporter of the project. On the outside, the classic facade has been kept, inside, there is a more modern looking environment, with a glass roof that ensures good light, exposed metal structures and glass barriers, reminiscent of modern airports. On the other hand, there are criticisms for the high cost of the renovation — US$ 1.6 billion — and for the lack of seating in common areas. There are only chairs in the eating spaces or in an area reserved for passengers with a day ticket.
For Bianca Tavolari, a professor at Insper, the New York project is welcome for rescuing a historical heritage and valuing public transport and walking. “However, actions like this bring the risk of increasing the price of real estate nearby, which can expel the poorest population that lives there, generating gentrification”, he warns.
In São Paulo, stations such as Luz and Júlio Prestes underwent revitalization renovations in recent decades and gained cultural attractions, such as the Museu da Língua Portuguesa and Sala São Paulo. Its surroundings, however, remained degraded.
“There are failures in connecting the projects to the surroundings. The city hall recently renovated the Anhangabaú valley and Largo do Arouche, which are walkable distances, but did not invest in creating attractions along the route between them”, comments Tavolari. She also defends that, instead of renovating stations, public money would be better spent expanding the transport network. “People still take two, three hours to get around,” he recalls.