Throughout the years, the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, has noticeably affected the way people use land. In our class’ assigned reading, Contemporary Urban Planning by John M. Levy, he devotes a chapter to the legal aspects of the planning which presents several lawsuits as examples. One of these lawsuits is Penn Central Transportation Company vs. New York City from the year 1978. In this suit, the Penn Central, who owned Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, wanted to demolish the station to build a skyscraper. The defendant, New York City, would end up winning the lawsuit because Grand Central Terminal is of significant historical value and is protected under the law. Many people were also outraged at the plan to demolish Grand Central, which is regarded as one of the architectural centerpieces of the City.
From a personal perspective, I recently visited Grand Central Terminal in late August 2014, and was thoroughly impressed with the architecture. This was my second time visiting the terminal, and I noticed things I had not before, such as the sheer size of the facility beyond the main waiting room and the influential art-deco architecture. That day I had ridden into New York via the current Penn Station, which made me appreciate Grand Central even more. Nowadays, the vast majority of people believe the demolition of the original Penn Station was one of the biggest mistakes in the City’s history. I hold that same view, since the original 1910 Penn Station had magnificent architecture much like Grand Central, and the replacement in the basement of Madison Square Garden is too small, cramped, and drab for being the country’s busiest train station.
In the zeitgeist of the 21st Century, one would fear to even think about the demolition of a beautiful and historical train station like Grand Central. As energy-efficiency and public transportation become priorities worldwide, traffic continues to grow on commuter railroads as more of the millennial generation chooses mass transit. Yet in 1978, traffic had greatly tailed off on both passenger and freight railroads, as mid-late 20th Century America favored automobiles, trucks and highways. This zeitgeist also brought the construction of automotive-centered suburbs and the Interstate Highway System after World War II. But eventually the tides would turn, as climate change made society value efficiency, and as suburban living has proven inconvenient when it comes to transportation and access to people, goods, services, and entertainment. On top of appreciation for historical architecture, these contrasting priorities prove a fundamental change of America’s zeitgeist. Thus, the significance of train stations is regained.