99% Invisible: 147- Penn Station Sucks
January 7, 2015 4:41 AM - Subscribe

New Yorkers are known to disagree about a lot of things. Who's got the best pizza? What's the fastest subway route? Yankees or Mets? But all 8.5 million New Yorkers are likely to agree on one thing: Penn Station sucks.
posted by Emanuel (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Short and sweet, but not much substance. I ended up only half-listening as the narrative didn't grab my attention. They can't all be winners, right?
posted by jazon at 6:26 AM on January 7, 2015

I also thought this episode was a little lacking, although I would listen to Roman Mars say pretty much anything. I also don't live in NYC and while I have taken the subway there I have never been to Penn Station or Grand Central so I can't really relate. The description did make it sound pretty terrible though!
posted by radioamy at 9:07 AM on January 7, 2015

I was surprised this didn't mention the idea of turning part of the rather grand post office building across the street from the station into a station annex, bringing back some of the grandeur of the past (or at least making it less nasty). I recall hearing about this years ago, and it looks like there may be some progress on making it happen.

I visited NYC once a few years back, and Penn Station is definitely the strangest way I've ever entered a city. We took the train into NYC and then had to go straight to the place we were staying in Harlem, so our first hour in the city was all underground in the rather bleak Penn station and subway system. Airports and bus stations have their own bleakness, but you still actually can see the city on the way in.
posted by Emanuel at 2:12 AM on January 8, 2015

I loved this episode for the title alone. My second trip to NYC put me squarely into Penn Station, and I was supposed to head out from there across manhattan to meet a friend. He loved NYC so much and felt so bad I had to go through Penn Station that he met me on the platform to both apologize for Penn Station and to help guide me through the ugly underground mall nonsense so we could get to the train that lead to his part of the city faster and away from Penn Station.

Penn Station is bafflingly depressing and makes you feel instantly claustrophobic, and definitely contrasts with every other subway stop and station. It's significantly uglier and grosser and more crowded, and just terrible than any other station by a long shot.

It wasn't until my fifth or sixth trip to NYC that I finally got to walk around in Grand Central Station, and only because I revealed that I hadn't seen it before to someone that made me go there (I don't have any friends living near it, never had a reason to go there). That space is GLORIOUS and beautiful and amazing, and drives the point further home that Penn Station doesn't have to be nearly as ugly and gross as it is.

On my last trip to NYC with my daughter, I showed her Grand Central station and we had Shake Shack there. Instead of taking the LIRR out of Penn Station, on the last day I took an uber taxi to the airport just to avoid Penn Station being her last memory of the city.
posted by mathowie at 8:56 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it was an interesting exploration of the tension between the purely practical needs of a city -- especially financial -- and those qualities that make a city special. New York isn't a great city because it's full of tiny, inhumane, nondescript boxes and crumbling tunnels that its citizens are run through like containers in an ancient vacuum tube system. It's a great city because it's thick with history, and much of it was built at a time when its builders wanted to do something for posterity, something that would still be meaningful a hundred years later. When you finish a world-altering feat of engineering like East River Tunnels you cap it off by building a world-class terminus.

That's vision. That's exciting. Penn Station is miserable.
posted by maxsparber at 9:06 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

IIRC, the destruction of the original Penn Station in the 60's was typical of the time. I used to live in New Orleans and there was a strange juxtaposition of ornate old buildings and ugly 60's boxes. I was told that there was a rampage of demolitions in the 60's and a lot of old buildings were lost before they finally enacted preservation laws.
posted by radioamy at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've always had a fondness for Penn Station's municipal blandness. I do wish the grand old station remained, but I don't hate Penn. It's functional, if glutted at times and visually unappealing. Compared to North Station Boston, it's the Taj Mahal.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on January 8, 2015

There are proposals to build a new Penn Station. This article on Curbed shows what the plans might be for if MSG is moved and if MSG stays put.
posted by inturnaround at 9:56 AM on January 9, 2015

First time I ever got off a train in Penn Station, I saw a shirtless dude, handcuffed, being chased by three cops.

They did not catch him.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:08 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's way more exciting than anything I've ever seen there. It's usually pretty mundane.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

But all 8.5 million New Yorkers are likely to agree on one thing: Penn Station sucks.


Related: Why are the signs at the nation's busiest train hub so confusing?
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:25 PM on January 10, 2015

Gibson was impressed by the feel of the New Jersey Transit Concourse, which is the most recently renovated. The architects created a pleasing environment with a pink-and-black-stone color scheme, and the piped-in classical music creates the sensation of a cultured commute.

Wow, I find it a train wreck (no pun intended). The size is completely inadequate to rush hour, and there's nowhere for the ticket lines to line up that's outside of traffic. The pink and black scheme underscores every northern NJ stereotype of gaudiness. After all the years of plywood barriers I was hoping for something simpler, cleaner and more functional.
posted by Miko at 8:47 AM on January 11, 2015

I found this ep interesting especially because of the fact that only effete upper class conservatives (architectural if not political) cared about preserving the old Penn. If it had been replaced with something not horrible would the outcry about preserving GCS have happened? I wonder.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:17 PM on January 11, 2015

If it had been replaced with something not horrible would the outcry about preserving GCS have happened?

I feel like there was a blink-and-you-miss-it mention of the cause & effect question at the end of the episode. Somebody was saying it wasn't the historic preservation laws that saved Grand Central, it was just the involvement of Jackie O, and then suddenly it was over. I'm left feeling a little uncertain what the thesis was, then.
posted by psoas at 9:21 AM on January 13, 2015

I wouldn't base any understandings of NYC's historic preservation scene and/or battles on this episode. It's really a pretty light touch and not a full accounting.
posted by Miko at 6:11 PM on January 13, 2015

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