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Who Needs a Neighborhood When You Can Have These Wild Amenities?

by Rick Anderson

Stretched out along one of Manhattan’s last remaining slices of open waterfront, Waterline Square has it all. There’s a rock-climbing wall, squash court, indoor half-pipe skate park, and indoor soccer field; a gardening room, dog training studio, bowling alley, and co-working space; a toddler playroom, children’s playroom, and pet playroom. Cipriani is there. It’s located in a sort of neighborhood no-man’s-land between Midtown and the Upper West Side—but who needs a neighborhood when you’ve got all of this at home?

As developers continue to one-up each other with ever-innovative in-house features, some urban planners are wondering what, exactly, super-convenient condo life might mean for city life. Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, it was just announced, will install a members-only medical center. To get to a Kings game at Sacramento’s The Residences at The Sawyer, one needn’t even step outside. The country’s collective skylines continue to rise, but will cities in fact soon get smaller?

The Hideaway—"part cabaret, part billiards room"—for residents of Brooklyn's The Greenpoint.

“To internalize everything, as many of the new developments are doing, does strike me as un-urban, and a potential problem,” says Andres Sevtsuk, an assistant professor in the department of urban planning and design at Harvard University. “In the most extreme versions—which you tend to see already in the tech industry with companies that provide on-site breakfast, lunch, dinner, 25 wines for free—what happens is you remove all positive impact on the local businesses. That’s an economic issue.” There’s also a social one. City life, says Sevtsuk, creates unexpected circumstances, many of which people like. “You don’t necessarily have to have a stimulating encounter in a doctor’s office waiting room,” he says. “But people who choose to live in cities typically enjoy their serendipitous nature.” Encouraging people to stay closer to home begins to erode that.

There are some positives. As Sevtsuk points out, the “family life–oriented” features many of the developments offer are undoubtedly bringing would-be suburbanites back to the urban core. In Boston’s Back Bay, the new One Dalton, due for completion in early 2019, will offer residents a 5,000-square-foot park designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh. Metropolis, a multi-tower project in downtown Los Angeles, has a 1.5-acre park for people and a separate one for dogs. In Manhattan, Robert A.M. Stern Architects’ 20 East End Avenue boasts a “junior lounge” designed for kids ages 7 to 18—because everyone knows that most kids don’t actually go outside anymore—with multiple-flat screen TVs, vintage arcade games, a foosball table, and the latest gaming consoles. Brooklyn’s The Greenpoint has shuffleboard.

For Vica, a new development in L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood, local artists were commissioned to create temporary construction murals, which will later decorate the building's public spaces.

And not all developers are looking to keep a lock on their residents, either. For Vica, his upcoming project in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, developer Justin Barth sacrificed salable upper-level space to develop an on-site meditation garden and observation deck—but also pushed hard for ground-floor retail and restaurant space. “Silver Lake has an authenticity that attracts people,” he says. “Typical condo projects that might bring everything in-house wouldn’t mix with this neighborhood. A great new restaurant, on the other hand, will be an amenity for the neighborhood as well as for our residents.” Barth also commissioned local artists to create a temporary construction mural, pieces of which will be on display throughout the building later on. (Public art is, in fact, one way that developers of even the most inclusive developments are seeking to bring in local flavor, if also, one could argue, eliminating the need for residents to visit galleries on their own. One Dalton's public spaces will include art curated by David Bowie’s longtime art consultant Kate Chertavian, while Hudson Yards will feature an interactive public structure called Vessel, made up of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, by British designer Thomas Heatherwick.)

Among the amenities at Waterline Square are an indoor skate park and a pet playroom.

Sevtsuk is convinced that, despite the allure of fine dining delivery and the Olympic-size pool just upstairs, eventually most city dwellers will ultimately find it incredibly boring to use the same facilities and see the same people, even if it’s the most convenient option. In situations where condos begin to create ghost towns beyond their glass facades, however, we could see cities intervene, he notes, pointing to Cambridge’s Kendall Square as an example. “For years, the office developments there had nothing on the ground floors,” he says. “Many of them had internal catering and gyms and kindergartens, and in the end, the city stepped in and said, you know, people who move here like great streets. They mandated the buildings open up their ground floors to create spaces the public could use—restaurants, galleries, stores. Now everyone loves it—and everyone benefits.”

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