Architect: SHoP Architects
Owner: Delancey Street Associates
Location: New York, NY
Across 20 acres of land formerly owned by the city, SHoP and Beyer Blinder Belle's collaborative team has created a dynamic but respectful contribution to life in New York's Lower East Side. Fueled by a vision that orchestrates development at nine prominent and long-empty sites, this plan includes more than 2 million square feet of commercial, retail, and community-use space that will maintain the vitality of this historic, bustling neighborhood.
With its tenements, public housing superblocks, and park spaces, the Lower East Side has seen countless interventions, some more successful than others, aimed at raising the quality of life for working-class families that have been rooted there since the early 1900s. In the 1950s, Robert Moses embarked on several "urban renewal" campaigns, during which swaths of housing were bulldozed through eminent domain to make way for new development. Many families, especially those of Puerto Rican descent, who called the neighborhood home were displaced and never returned. Essex Crossing, which sits at the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets, was never redeveloped due to lack of funds and Moses' diminished favor in New York.
In 2013, the team was selected through a public RFP process initiated by the city, joining three well-known developers to craft a plan for the largest piece of undeveloped land south of 96th Street. Fifty percent of the plan's residential spaces are designated as permanent affordable housing, prioritizing those relocated during the 1950s and ’60s.
Robert Moses embarked on several "urban renewal" campaigns, during which swaths of housing were bulldozed through eminent domain to make way for new development. Many families, especially those of Puerto Rican descent, who called the neighborhood home were displaced and never returned.
Building community consensus was critical to the plan's success, and the team committed to years of engagement work. The nine-site project stitches together the surrounding neighborhood by focusing on community use and incorporating disparate programming. Among them are a new home for Essex Market, the Grand Street Settlement community center, and the GrandLo Cafe , which serves local at-risk young people as a job training site. Other major features include a new headquarters for the Chinese-American Planning Council, a family-friendly bowling alley, and a new building for the International Center of Photography, which explores the medium through exhibitions and learning opportunities.
The plan significantly increased ground-floor activity, and small-scale retail and cultural institutions line the majority of the street frontages. In its new and updated building, Essex Market continues to provide access to affordable groceries, something it has done since the 1940s. The Market Line, a vendor space that sits directly below Essex Market and features many women- and minority-owned businesses with connections to the Lower East Side; a rooftop urban farm run by Project EATS; and a nearby Trader Joe's bolster the availability of local, healthy foods.
This project is viewed as one of the city's most important recent developments due to its focus on community and culture. As Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times, noted in 2019, "Even half-done, Essex Crossing, on the Lower East Side, is shaping up as one of New York's most promising new mixed-use developments—the anti-Hudson Yards."