The January winter is always a time where people evaluate effectiveness and success, and looking at New York City’s High Line is no different. This article by Justin Davidson in the New York Magazine describes the author’s ennui with the place, as it transformed from an old 30 foot high 1.45 mile (2.33 km) long train bridge to a wildly successful people place.
Davidson minces no words describing the High Line as “an elevated cattle chute for tourists, who shuffle from the Whitney to Hudson Yards, squeezed between high glass walls and luxury guard towers. The views are mostly gone, which is a good thing because stopping to admire one would cause a 16-pedestrian pileup. The rail-level traffic mirrors the congestion overhead, caused by construction so hellbent on milking New York’s waning real estate hyper-boom that any patch of land bigger than a tick’s front yard is considered suitable for luxury condos.”
I spent time with Mitchell Silver, New York City’s Park Commissioner and Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the High Line walking the length of the project, and described that here. Mitchell observed that locals stay away from the High Line during “tourist season” hours, and also stressed that the width of the walkway~fifteen feet~was inadequately narrow, despite best intentions. The reuse of an old highway overpass in Seoul Korea has resulted in the creation of Seoullo 7017, a fantastic arboretum and linear park thirty feet in the air. When I visited this project last year, designers also said that their walkway~which was also fifteen feet wide~was too narrow as well. This project is well-lit and open 24 hours a day and has a bakery and a daycare on its deck.
While it is popular to believe that the High Line has been responsible for the rejuvenation and revitalization of this very old meatpacking district, I beg to differ.
The Port Authority Building at 111 Eighth Avenue is adjacent to the High Line, and was until the 1960’s the largest building in New York City.
After leasing this building the Google Corporation purchased the fifteen story monolith in 2010. It contains 2.9 million square feet (think of it as two Tsawwassen Mills Malls) in its massive interior. Having Google employees and the associated businesses in the area would have been an incubator putting pressure on the adjacent businesses which included nightclubs and former buildings associated with the meatpacking industry. While still containing some of the earliest buildings associated with the Dutch settlement of New York City, this area was one of the last available with large lot size and cheaper real estate prices.
Much like Vancouver’s Seaside Greenway, the residential development along the High Line may not be affordable, but that does not change the fact that the High Line is accessible to the public. The public park is also managed by a non-profit conservancy working with NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation. While the conservancy manages the maintenance, operation and public programming for the park, they are also able to accept donations and will bequests for the park. This is a concept that is still relatively new, leaving money for the on-going management of public space.
In his article on the High Line Davidson observes that the area “has become a social club for celebrity architects, who compete by pretending that their fellow members simply don’t exist…Bjarke Ingels Group is erecting an even BIGger pair of towers, twisting and leaning towards each other above a whole city block. …”
In summation, Davidson could have been addressing downtown Vancouver~”The rap on luxury development in New York is that it’s geared to absentee owners, who barely stop in for a shower on a layover between continents. But that may change. The Treasury Department has tightened rules for high-end, all-cash real estate purchases, aimed at preventing buyers from hiding their identities behind shell companies. Shady gajillionaires now have to slink off and launder their embezzled fortunes somewhere else, which could land some imperial apartments on the bargain table.”
If indeed foreign investment does fall off in New York City, the citizens are still left with this extraordinary gem of a public park. Built on an old rail overpass the High Line has turned into a much-loved amenity with public art, theatre performance, gardens, and benches. It is a place people congregate to and spend time in.
Instead of thinking of crowds and congestion as being the High Line’s destruction, this park’s popularity has led the way in creatively rethinking urban infrastructure, and we are all the better for that.
The seeds of the High Line's destruction were planted before it even opened. https://t.co/luj972r9wA
— Justin Davidson (@JDavidsonNYC) January 7, 2019
Photos of High Line by Veronica Reynolds, taken Dec.30/18