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The "might have beens" of the Big Apple

The City That Never Was: Two Hundred Years of Fantastic and Fascinating Plans That Might Have Changed the Face of New York City - Rebecca Read Shanor

Cities are ever-changing works in progress, and for every building, thoroughfare, and public space that exists there are unrealized plans that would have resulted in very different urbanscapes. In this well-illustrated book Rebecca Read Shanor looks at some of the alternative designs for America's largest metropolis that never came to pass. She divides this examination into six chapters, detailing various proposals for different streets, public buildings, transportation systems, bridges, parks, and monuments throughout the city. For each of them she describes their genesis, how they were received, and why it was that the visions never became reality, which produces a series of stories of visionaries who aspired to change New York City and the various pitfalls which frustrated their dreams.

 

Read Shanor's book provides an intriguing look at the New York that might have been. While her selection of projects is a little idiosyncratic (I was disappointed that the Dewey Arch was not even mentioned, let alone described), the ones she details provide excellent case studies that demonstrate the numerous reasons why many projects are never realized -- indeed, after reading this book, it can seem to be a wonder that anything is ever built. In some cases (such as Robert Moses's infamous Lower Manhattan Expressway) the city is better for the projects that never becoming reality, yet Read Shanor details more than a few the failure of which is regrettable. While there is no way of knowing how things would have turned out in the long run, it is fascinating to speculate how different New York might be had some of these proposals been built.