Viewpoint: New Moynihan Station designed to bring out best in New Yorkers, today and tomorrow

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

Like Lincoln who continued to build the Capitol dome and the Continental Railroad during the Civil War despite shortages of funding and manpower in order to give assurances that the Union would go on, Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to build, even stepped up building during this historic, debilitating pandemic.

And just in time for the winter holidays, he presented New York State with this gift: a grand, new Moynihan Station for Long Island Railroad commuters and Amtrak passengers, presenting an appropriately fabulous new gateway to one of the world’s great cities.

Earlier this year, Cuomo cut the ribbons on the new LaGuardia Airport terminal and the new Mario Cuomo Bridge (replacing the Tappan Zee) with a walking/biking recreational path, and with Moynihan Station, the largest public transportation projects undertaken in the nation, each embodying a “Build Back Better” policy.

The $1.6 billion 255,000 square-foot Moynihan Train Hall, transformed 100-year-old James A. Farley Building, an architectural gem and the first landmarked building in the City (after the devastating destruction of the original Penn Station in 1963), underutilized as the US Post Office, into a world-class transportation hub.

Rail travelers find greatly expanded concourse and scores of people-friendly, ergonomic, safety, accessibility and healthful improvements, not the least of which is better ventilation and sanitation, access to elevators, reduced congestion, and eased boarding (better enabling social distancing).

“We built this as a statement of who we are, and who we aspire to be,” Gov. Cuomo said at the grand opening. “It is a testament and a monument to the public [that] they deserve the best and they can produce the best. We built this not for ourselves. We built this for our children and our children’s children and we built this as a statement of who we are, and who we believe we are and who we aspire to be. Is it grand? Yes. Is it bold? Yes, because that is the spirit of New York and that’s the statement we want to make to our visitors, to our children and to future generations.”

Public works are essential for infrastructure that supports and invigorates the economy, but also has a role in invigorating the spirit and as well as contributing to health, safety and well-being both physical and emotional, especially when they incorporate “Build Back Better” strategies.

Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer prize-winning architectural critic and an advisor on the project, said, “It is the first step to returning the busiest rail center in the United States [used by more than 700,000 passengers per day – more than LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark International Airports combined] into the best rail center in the United States. There’s still a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction, toward a recognition that great public space belongs to everyone, and a great city deserves a noble public realm, and that the government has a responsibility to help make that happen.”

Indeed, much of New York’s great infrastructure was built during tough times – think Long Island’ parkways and Jones Beach State Park built during the Great Depression.

“That is when the government needs to send a signal that it believes in the future, that we will have a better future, and we are investing in it because that very investment will help make a better future happen,” Goldberger said.

“We travel every day across bridges and through tunnels and along subway tracks that were built in difficult times, because other generations invested for us, and Moynihan Train Hall is a symbol of our will to do the same thing today and invest in the future even as we are struggling to keep afloat in the present, because investing in the future is actually one of the best ways we have to keep afloat in the present, but that’s the test of a great government, that it can take the long view.”
Such a project would be an amazing accomplishment at any time, but extraordinary because of what is happening today.

“We’re at a place where no one ever envisioned being. We saw the greatest country in the world fall prey to a microscopic virus and we have seen our world turned upside down and so many things we believe to be true – our ability to control, our ability to dominate – that all turned out to be false. We’re going through a traumatic period, individually and collectively.

Society is going through a traumatic period and the question for us now is ‘What will this traumatic period cause us to be?..

“That’s what we’re going to decide in this New Year 2021 as we close this chapter on 2020. But we learn the lessons and we move forward to 2021 and what this hall says to me as we head toward the New Year is yes. Yes, we can. Yes, we can learn. Yes, we can grow. As dark as 2020 was, to me this hall brings the light literally and figuratively. It brings the light.”

Moynihan Hall, Cuomo said, “reminds us who we are: We are New York… We came from risk-takers, from ambition, from daring. We came from the entrepreneurial spirit. We were born from people who left where they were and crossed great oceans just to come here for opportunity and they made the greatest state in the nation out of nothing. That’s who we are in our genetics, that’s our DNA, that’s our core, that’s our essence — so of course we can.

“We showed the nation how to deal with a common enemy. We showed them what unity can do and now we’re going to step forward in 2021. ..Life is not about going back; life is about going forward. Life is about learning and being stronger and getting up and pulling yourself up, and pulling together and making the best of the place, making the best that we can be. And that’s going to be 2021 for New York.

“This hall says that we can do it. We don’t accept mediocrity. We’re tired of hearing why we can’t do something. We’re going to focus on how we can get it done. We are New York. We are the best. We will rise and we will be stronger than we have ever been together and that’s what this hall says to me and that’s what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan would say to us today.”

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