It is a billionaires’ playground where haircuts cost $800 and high-rise duplexes go for $32m. So why do the angular towers of Hudson Yards look so cheap?

‘One thing that’s always been true in New York,” says Dan Doctoroff, “is that if you build it, they will come.” He is referring to Hudson Yards, the $25bn, 28-acre, mega-project that he had a critical hand in originating while he was deputy mayor of the city under Michael Bloomberg in the early 2000s. He can now look down on his co-creation every day from his new office in one of the development’s towers and see hundreds of people climbing up and down Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel sculpture, like tiny maggots crawling all over a rotting doner kebab.

The first phase of Hudson Yards opened last month and people have indeed come – mostly to gawp at how it could have been allowed to happen. On a vast swath of the west side of Manhattan once earmarked for New York’s 2012 Olympic bid, a developer has conjured a private fantasy of angular glass towers stuffed with offices and expensive apartments, rising above a seven-storey shopping mall on an endless grey carpet, sprinkled with small tufts of “park”.

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