Zoning has literally defined and physically shaped the cities and urban areas we frequent. Throughout history, this government power has had benefits and disadvantages. In our last reading, we learn about the evolution of zoning and land-use planning and its effects on cities across the nation. However, one case and one city interested me more than the others. The decision made in the Supreme Court case of Penn Central Transportation Company v. New York City is the reason why Grand Central Station still looks as breathtaking and stylish as it did during the time it was built. I was raised in the state of New York and my mom has worked in Manhattan for +10 years, so I frequented New York City as an adolescent. Walking out of a Metro North train and into the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal immediately overwhelmed me with speechlessness. The ceiling design, the clock above the main info booth, the mass amounts of people, and the odd relaxing feeling of being amidst the random chaos of the city amazed me. All these feelings and sights are taken for granted each and every day, because we don’t realize that there were battles fought in court that ultimately decided the visual aspects and limits of Grand Central Terminal.
Supreme Court cases such as Penn Central Transportation Company v. New York City helped us to better understand how zoning and the legislative decisions associated indeed shape the buildings we commute through. If this company had been granted the right to build a skyscraper atop the station in 1978, we might not even recognize Grand Central Station today. I was relieved to learn it was blocked due to the terminals historic value. And while this company argued about the losses this nonexistent skyscraper caused them, the entire world would ultimately gain a historic icon by preserving the appearance of the baronial station. This case is a good example of the benefits of zoning, showing us that the government could make appropriate choices for the public in order to preserve buildings and not abuse their power by doing so.
Is change always good? Would a skyscraper above Grand Central Terminal have contributed to its world wide popularity? What is the comparison between the potential economic loss and the visual aesthetic value that GCT has accrued? Truly we only know the effects of not building the skyscraper, and we can only assume things about the outcome of having it built, but we learned that zoning has immense effects on the visual aspects, layouts, design, and functionality of a building or a city. Depending on your view, you might agree with the decision to preserve GCT or you might think the decision was naive and that there was ignored profit to be gained. And while this decision would most likely be based off of the values of an individual, everyone wins when the government acts in the public’s best interest.