On Saturday, March 16th I attended the third annual City of Tomorrow: Real Estate, Architecture, and Design Summit – billed as an “incomparable two-day symposium with a host of interactive workshops and panel discussions on timely and provocative topics.” As it happened, the topic of the day could not have been timelier: the grand opening of Hudson Yards–the single largest private real estate development in the United States representing a $25 Billion investment spanning 28 acres. And despite attending multiple panel discussions that I felt to be discrete in terms of subject matter, all of them referred to this landmark event.

First on my list was a panel entitled “Restaurateurs meet Real Estate,” helmed by esteemed chefs Thomas Keller, Missy Robbins, and Jose Andres. My excitement stemmed from my prior experience working in hospitality in Washington, DC. I’m no stranger to the groundbreaking dining concepts by Andres (Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Minibar) and I frequently consult Keller’s essential cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. I also knew that both those chefs were tenants of Hudson Yards, with Andres’ Mercado Little Spain (an Eataly-inspired food hall) occupying approximately 35K square feet alone. As such, the panelists’ discussion centered around site selection criteria for restaurateurs and the ability for restaurants to contribute to a neighborhood’s identity. And in the case of Hudson Yards, what happens when the “neighborhood” is widely regarded as a tabula rasa? Overall, the panelists were optimistic that food and dining could play an essential role in creating that identity over time.

I then attended a panel entitled “New York City Neighborhoods” with speakers from StreetEasy, HR&A Advisors, Berkshire Hathaway, and Long Island City Partnership. Again, the conversation started with panelists identifying what they envisioned to be the neighborhoods to watch in the future: Downtown Brooklyn, Two Bridges, East New York, Bay Ridge, Inwood, Long Island City, and Flushing were a few mentioned. It was not lost on the panelists that some of these neighborhoods were part and parcel of rezonings that had struggled with varying degrees of pushback from locals seeking investment in community infrastructure. Panelists agreed it was essential to maintain meaningful dialogue through the development process, but to also emphasize that investment in community infrastructure is rarely achieved when looking at development on a single building envelope level. Gains are made when guided by larger comprehensive planning as part of public policy or a large-scale development project—of which Hudson Yards is both.

Based on my observations, the tenor surrounding Hudson Yards at this summit was optimistic bordering on ebullient. Not everybody agreed that it was a neighborhood unto itself—at least not yet. But it certainly had the potential to knit together other well-established neighborhoods and cherished spaces. I imagine this was a crowd eager for insight on whether New York could be the “City of Tomorrow,” having recently seen Amazon abandon its plans for HQ2. I also imagine they would tell you now that the prognosis is good and that the future is nigh.

Daniel McCombie is a Manager at Public Works Partners.  He is an urban planner with a background in the hospitality industry and community development.  Click here to learn more about Dan and his interests.