New York's $25 billion megadevelopment can withstand a superstorm or terrorist attack - even if the entire city shuts down

hudson yards

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The buildings' reflective panels change colors with the light.

  • New York's largest and most expensive private real-estate development, the $25 million Hudson Yards mega-site, opens to the public on Friday.
  • The complex is designed to withstand major threats like hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
  • Though it's not impervious to natural disasters, Hudson Yards can power itself during a storm, even if the entire city shuts down.

Whether you call it a "city within a city" or a living room for creative workers, Hudson Yards is by far the most grandiose development in New York City's recent history. At more than 18 million square feet, the dense configuration of buildings is large enough to host the entire population of Hartford, Connecticut - around 125,000 residents.

It's also the most expensive real estate development in US history, with a price tag of $25 billion.

Read more: Inside Hudson Yards, the most expensive real estate development in US history

As the brainchild of Related Chairman Stephen Ross, whose portfolio includes New York's Time Warner Center and CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Hudson Yards follows in the legacy of sweeping development projects that define a city's axis. Where New Yorkers once flocked to Times Square or Grand Central, they might soon cluster at Hudson Rivers to eat, shop, or soak the sights along the western periphery.

But Hudson Yards is more than just a collection of luxury skyscrapers. It's also a fortress that's built to survive off-grid in the event of hurricanes, floods, or terrorist attacks.

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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The site's Vessel art installation rises 150 feet in the air.

The development can ward off major safety threats

Recalling the September 11 attacks, the site's developers - Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group - undertook great efforts to mitigate acts of terrorism. They consulted with security teams, including the city's former police department commissioner, to prepare for active shooters and truck bombs, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The site is also prepared for the looming threat of natural disaster.

As a riverside development, Hudson Yards is located along New York City's 100-year flood plain, but the majority of buildings are raised about 40 feet above sea level. Mechanical systems located within the flood plain, including fuel pumps and elevator pits, have been sealed off by waterproof "submarine doors," and electrical systems have been moved above ground to protect them from water damage. Even the complex's 200-plus trees and 28,000 plants are kept alive by harvesting rainwater instead of relying on New York City's irrigation system.

In the event of power outage, micro-turbines can heat and cool the buildings, allowing the development to survive independently of the city's infrastructure - what's often referred to as living "off the grid."

35 hudson yards

Katie Warren/Business Insider

15 Hudson Yards against a backdrop of the New York City skyline.

The phrase is somewhat misleading, said Billy Grayson, the executive director of the Urban Land Institute's Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance.

"No building is off-grid because every building needs roads to bring people to it," he told Business Insider. "If the city is not making the right investments in resilient infrastructure, even if the buildings can run perfectly, it's still not going to save them from those extreme weather events."

While Grayson said Hudson Yards has made "pretty good" investments in resiliency, he cautioned against viewing the development as a safe haven from climate change.

"Even if I have a beautiful condo," he said, "I don't want to be stuck in it for a month while they're trying to dig out the subway or rebuild the roads that connected me to the rest of Manhattan."

That fate might be preferable to living in another New York City development that could be wiped out by a major flood.

Firefighters warn of a lingering safety concern

Though developers have prepared for all sorts of major disasters, the site still faces the absence of a local fire station, which could limit firefighters' ability to answer emergency calls.

hudson yards

Katie Warren/Business Insider

The development site at night.

In 2018, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association - the union representing New York City firefighters - sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in which he expressed concerns about increased traffic and safety emergencies near Hudson Yards.

In his letter, Gerard Fitzgerald said his department was already "stretched thin" trying to serve the community near the Eastern and Western Rail Yards, which includes neighborhoods like Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen. Without a new fire station in the area, he told Business Insider, hundreds of thousands of lives could be put at risk.

De Blasio's office did not immediately return Business Insider's request for comment, but the New York City Fire Department has acknowledged a potential safety concern.

For now, residents are faced with a paradox: They might find immediate safety during a superstorm or chemical attack, but a more common emergency could take longer to address.

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