One of the most frustrating things for me to hear over the last few years has been "Why does Manhattan get all the good stuff? Why don't they do this in Brooklyn or Queens?" People who say this don't usually expect that they would do them in the Bronx or Staten Island, but they like to leave those boroughs in so they can be really anti-Manhattan.
A good example is this guy who claims to speak for "the outer boroughs" while living in an Upper East Side highrise. Another is the "two New Yorks" meme that came up in last winter's snowpocalypse as well as the congestion pricing fight.
The implication is that the location of these projects is entirely driven by elitism. Our Billionaire Mayor who lives on the Upper East Side only thinks of his fellow rich Manhattanites. They get all the exciting projects, and the working-class stiffs get to slouch along with their worn-out old highways and boulevards.
The most frustrating thing is that most of these people are completely full of shit. They claim to want projects like these to be located in Brooklyn or Queens, or maybe even the Bronx or Staten Island, but if someone tries to build one they rise up, like you're trying to put a methadone clinic or a toxic waste dump in their neighborhood. "Why are you dumping on Queens?" or of course, "This may have been a success in Manhattan, but it'll never work in Brooklyn."
There are a few people who genuinely want to see the benefits of transit and livable streets spread out among the boroughs. There's a good argument to be made for the "polycentrism" of the Paris or Los Angeles metropolitan areas, which evens out the demands on the transportation system somewhat. But even they don't always get why things happen in Manhattan. So here are four reasons why Manhattan is special, and why it makes sense to put things - new things, fancy things, exciting things - in Manhattan.
1. More people live in Manhattan. If you want to serve a lot of people, you can build something in Manhattan and they're all right there.
2. As a corollary, because lots of people live there, Manhattan is dense, one of the densest places in the country. Some projects need a critical mass of people to get going, and in Manhattan it's relatively easy to find thousands of people who are interested in something.
3. More people go to Manhattan. It's the primary employment center, the primary center of trade, of shopping, of art and performance. It's centrally located within the metropolitan area and well-served by the transportation system, so that people can get there relatively easily from all over the city. It's also a mixing ground for people from different groups to meet, a neutral territory with a strong police presence and lots of eyes on the street.
4. Less people drive to Manhattan and in Manhattan. Less Manhattanites own cars. It may not seem this way if you stand in the middle of Park Avenue at rush hour, but per capita there's a lot less car ownership, and a lot less driving. Many people drive everywhere but Manhattan: they leave their cars at the North White Plains lot and turn into pedestrians and transit users for the day.
Bureaucrats, politicians and advocates ignore these facts at their own peril. I've seen the DOT try to site numerous projects in Queens. Some of them attract instant opposition, because they would compete with cars, and others fail to attract enough pedestrian or bike traffic, and wind up being abandoned. A pilot project needs to work.
Some Manhattanites are snobs. Some Manhattan residents and businesses have too much influence, especially over Our Billionaire Mayor and his Sycophantic Staff, and they get things that they're not really entitled to. But more often, things happen in Manhattan because the DOT or the MTA know that there will be a lot of pedestrians or transit users there, or they'll be able to get there relatively easily.
The next time you see something happening in Manhattan, and you're ready to spring forward with cries of "Elitism!", check these four aspects of Manhattan's specialness that have nothing to do with elitism. You just might find there's a rational reason for it.