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Behold, a rendering of New York’s new city jail, to replace the foul, ungovernable monstrosity on Riker’s Island, which the city voted to shut down in 2019. The site is in Chinatown where another old city lockup called “the Tombs” once loomed. The late Tom Wolfe memorialized “the Tombs” in The Bonfire of the Vanities, as a place where incarcerated hookers quaintly yelled affectionate epithets to passers-by down on the street from their tiny windows on high. The new city prison is going to be a whole lot higher: 300 feet high or as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Neighborhood denizens are calling it the “Tower of Doom.” According to The Guardian newspaper, the TOD will offer “new quality-of-life features like recreation centers, health clinics and visitation areas with children’s playrooms – all things that residents, family members and staff requested during ‘hundreds of hours’ of focus groups.” Sounds a little like a low-grade resort for perps and convicts.

Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood has been hurting for decades. First, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 isolated the district for weeks, vaporizing its garment industry. Then, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 shut down electric service for weeks all over again, driving many residents out.

Most ironically, New York City — indeed all giant “metroplex” cities — face the quandary that high-rise buildings are going obsolete all of a sudden — at least since Covid-19 told the whole vast corporate office workforce to work from home. Commercial real estate never recovered in terms of building occupancy rates, and many Manhattan office skyscrapers are not able to cover their mortgages, taxes, and maintenance costs. And, it happens that residential skyscrapers are accessories to the office towers. So, if people aren’t working in the office towers, fewer people will be living in the apartment buildings. All this augurs a systemic failure that will bring down banks, leave the city with a thousand or more mega-structures with little more than salvage value, will destroy the tax base, and create a massive contraction of the once magnificent pulsing symbol of “the American Century.”

Farewell to all that. And so the last megastructure to be completed will be this monstrosity of a skyscraper jailhouse. It might not even be completed before the city runs out of moolah. And in the unlikely case that it ever opens for business, I predict it will operate for no more than a few years before the city loses the ability to maintain it. Oh, and one last thing: it will be ugly as a mofo.

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

13 Responses to “June 2024”

  1. docmartin June 3, 2024 at 6:20 pm #

    How bout we name it the DNC NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS

  2. Dr. Coyote June 3, 2024 at 10:26 pm #

    It looks like a power transformer sticking up out of a circuit board.

    What’s more, there’s a lot of irony in that this prison is the same height as the Statue of Liberty. The way things have been going, I have to suspect that this is more by design than coincidence.

  3. Cactus Girl June 4, 2024 at 5:58 pm #

    When I was a little kid, we would go visit my grandparents way down on the LES. Then we’d go to a bakery in Chinatown to get lady fingers on the way home.

  4. Chris at Fernglade Farm June 5, 2024 at 6:41 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    Is it my imagination, or are there no windows on the building? And such a dark external surface can only but absorb heat. The insides of the building would be a super cooker during the summer months. Can you imagine how much energy would be required to run that building under those conditions? And err, fire escape stairs would probably be locked, for obvious reasons.

    On an entirely historical note, you’d hope the hookers were inventive with their cajoling of the passer-by?



  5. tucsonspur June 7, 2024 at 8:44 pm #

    Yes, some kind of transformer or battery pack jutting up from Manhattan’s electrical maze. ‘Tower of Doom’, ‘Tower of Gloom’, keep them handy, the guardroom and the gunroom.

    The spirit sags when viewing this wretched, charcoal or graphite(?) rendering. At least those entombed inside will not have to gaze upon its menacing, malevolent exterior.

    This loathsome tower looks like a mighty mountain of lamp black smearing all of Chinatown.

    I guess the old Chinese proverb, “The journey is the reward” doesn’t work too well here.

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  6. holdfastspike June 10, 2024 at 11:22 am #

    i’ve always thought Chinatown needed to look more like blade runner, this looks like a good start. perhaps they could put illegals and street crazies there too. or has Baron Harkonen been granted lordship over the city to squeeze out more spice for the emperor and his vast bureaucracy?

    • ZrCrypDiK June 28, 2024 at 11:29 am #

      Planet Giedi Prime? Yeah, it has that feel too… I always thought the ’84 David Lynch movie did a lot of justice to the book. The Sci Fi series (6 hours) wasn’t that bad either, but a bit drawn out. And now they seem to be merging the original movie feel with the long and drawn out Sci Fi version…

  7. BackRowHeckler June 16, 2024 at 1:03 pm #

    It doesnt appear too “Welcoming” or “Inclusive”, the two main DEI requirements for any new endeavor or project going forward.

  8. Ishabaka June 17, 2024 at 7:17 pm #

    With today’s Soros DAs, what, exactly, will a criminal have to do to wind up in the Black Tower of Chinatown? Eat a whole nursery full of babies?!

  9. Greg Knepp June 23, 2024 at 8:06 pm #

    I dunno’, at least it has a grim aspect appropriate to a prison. Didn’t you call this characteristic an asset in architecture – that a building should have a look suitable to its purpose? I believe you called it ‘typology’, though I’m not certain.

  10. ZrCrypDiK June 28, 2024 at 11:06 am #

    OMFG that is the Borg cube! Resistance is futile! U will be assimilated!!!

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  11. korkorski June 28, 2024 at 12:47 pm #

    Another cheery, Brutalist insult. Looks like Bulgaria. Sad.

  12. BackRowHeckler June 30, 2024 at 11:15 am #

    Mordor, Mordor on the Hudson.

    NYC has come a long way from Washington Irving’s cheerful descriptions of the Isle of Manhattos 225 years ago.