That’s not the only message New Yorkers receive as we stand outside, say, the seven-foot-tall hedge running along East 46th Street that conceals a private 10,000-square-foot circular driveway for the residents of 50 United Nations Plaza. Another message we hear says: You’re on the wrong side of the red velvet rope, or, in this case, the green hedge.
These are private spaces — the public did not lose a park or a sidewalk bench for a driveway, but some of these spaces could have instead housed a restaurant or a shop, giving a New Yorker a reason to walk down the street and feel connected to the buildings towering above.
Instead, a gate “sticks a big finger in people’s faces to say: ‘I’m better than you. I live here. I live in this luxury building with a giant gate that you can’t come past,’” said Richard Florida, the author of “The New Urban Crisis” (Basic, 2017). “It might make people pissed off.”
At 20 East End Avenue, an Upper East Side condo where a four-bedroom apartment sold in April for $14.785 million, a 12-foot-tall wrought-iron gate will conceal a 4,000-square-foot interior courtyard with an Indiana limestone fountain and a covered area for stepping out of your car. “From the street, it looks like Buckingham Palace,” said Edward Baquero, the president of Corigin Real Estate Group, the building’s developer. (The building is open to residents, but the gate is still being forged in Brooklyn.)
Not to overstate the obvious, but Buckingham Palace is actually a palace housing a queen. Twenty East End Ave is not. Until the building showed up, the people who lived nearby did not share the block with a palace-like barricade. But one man’s barricade is another’s welcome mat. “It’s not a walled, gated community,” Mr. Baquero said. “It’s not like a castle with a moat.”
Mr. Florida disagrees. “Call a spade a spade,” he said. “It’s a gated community.”
Such barriers have enraged some neighbors. At 1 Great Jones Alley, a condo under construction in NoHo, developers are marketing an alley from 1806 as a private driveway, enclosed with a Corten steel-and-mesh gate. Marketing materials refer to the space as “A secret alley. A private paradise. An exclusive residence.”
But the 20-foot-wide alley is not exactly exclusive or secret. An early-19th-century easement gives neighboring buildings shared ownership of the sliver of land, and unrestricted access to it. In March, the co-op board of 684 Broadway, a neighboring property, sued Madison Realty Capital, the developer, about the passageway. In the suit, the co-op says that Madison does not have the authority to unilaterally alter or remove an existing gate; repave or landscape the alley; or prohibit vehicles from accessing it. The suit calls for the developer to stop marketing the property as a private alley.
“The lawsuit is capricious and opportunistic,” Dan Cobleigh, the managing director of design and development at Madison Realty Capital, told me in an email. Repaving and landscaping the alley would improve “the value of their property as well, at our expense. Why would anyone want to oppose that?”
In a statement, the board of 684 Broadway said: “As the owner of part of the alley, we filed the lawsuit in order to preserve our property rights, and we would stop pursuing legal remedies if the developer would stop expressing the intent to modify the part of the alley that we own without our consent.”
The city is a hectic place, and it would certainly be nice to pull your car up to your door, where staff could greet you and take your bags in a private setting, sort of like “Downton Abbey.” A covered private drive not only eliminates the need to double park or grab an umbrella, it is also “a break from the energy of the city,” said Harlan Berger, the chief executive of Centaur Properties, which is developing the Jardim, a condo in Chelsea that will stretch between West 27th and West 28th Streets when it opens next summer.
A vaulted tunnel wide enough for a car to drive through will connect the two ends of the property. Visitors will enter the lobby from the middle of the tunnel, far from the cacophony on the street. “It’s like going into the country for a moment, you can take a breath of fresh air,” Mr. Berger said.
Except, you’re not in the country. You’re in Manhattan.