BY LESLIE BOGHOSIAN MURPHY | In December 2016, shortly after the Hudson Yards development unveiled the design for their “new public landmark,” “Vessel,” Audrey Wachs, the associate editor of the Architect’s Newspaper, wrote, “As one climbs up ‘Vessel,’ the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump.”
This past week, a 14-year old boy was the fourth person to jump to his death off the 150-foot-tall structure. This only two months after it was closed from January to May following the suicide of another young man. And the jumping suicide of a young lady the month before that. And the jumping suicide of a young man early last year.
On March 10, 2020, after the first suicide, Community Board 4 wrote a letter to Related Companies, the developer/manager of Hudson Yards and “Vessel,” expressing our anguish and grave concern. We made specific note of the inadequate chest-high barriers and requested they be raised. We were well aware of the similar situation at New York University’s Bobst Library and referenced that history. No changes were made.
Two months ago, after the second and third deaths, Related closed “Vessel” and announced that after consulting with suicide prevention experts, the attraction would reopen with changes, including enhanced security, no solo entry and tickets changing from free to $10 (the last curious for most cynics).
Our community board responded firmly and swiftly. These changes were inadequate, we stressed. The surest way to prevent another death was higher barriers and we insisted they be installed. We were repudiated. And now a 14-year-old boy is dead, climbing over one of the guardrails and jumping in front of his family. The mental image is horrifying. But if you are a parent, like I am, the brain automatically substitutes your own child in the dreadful scenario and you hopelessly think, “How can this happen?”
I hesitate to say this was ultimately preventable because it simplifies what a person is going through when they are overwhelmed with anguish and suffering. But experts in this field tell us these moments of greatest despair can be ephemeral and that preventative measures work. An appropriate-sized barrier on “Vessel” certainly would have allowed this young man, and the others, to live one more day. That day brings hope, which leads to possibility, which leads to help.
Stephen M. Ross, the developer and founder of Related, told The Daily Beast, “We thought we did everything that would really prevent this.” Really? We on Community Board 4, through letters, e-mails and phone calls, made it clear nothing short of higher barriers would work. The truth is that there was a choice and, for whatever reason, Related made the wrong one.
The quarter-of-a-billion-dollar structure is now closed again for a “full investigation,” which begs the question, what is the tipping point?
“Vessel” is a gilded, manufactured New York City landmark now notable for all the wrong reasons. It’s time to shut it down and end suicide by “Vessel.”
Boghosian Murphy is a member of Community Board 4 and was a candidate in the June 2021 Democratic primary election for City Council District 3. She lives in Hell’s Kitchen.