Beneath the High Line

Today, the New York Times had a great opinion piece by Jeremiah Moss titled Disney World on the Hudson: In the Shadows of the High Line.

The High Line is a public park built on top of a former elevated train line and currently runs through The Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods of Manhattan. The elevated track was built in the 1930’s carrying meat and other goods into The Meatpacking District but the last train powered through in 1980. After sitting abandoned and overgrown for decades, the track was slated for demolition but two community residents had greater ambitions for the space  and they started the Friends of the High Line organization garnering support for the reuse of the space as a public park. The High Line park, which opened in 2009, is often looked at as a model reuse project and has been equally adored and despised residents, urban planners and national and international visitors.
The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

For me, the High Line is an innovative and unique reuse project, but one that also embodies exclusivity. The 1.45-mile-long park is located in a mostly swanky area of Manhattan, surrounded by chic shops and restaurants, expensive food trucks and sits literally high above the street (which can be an issue when elevated spaces can feel unwelcoming and exclusive). The park is accessible to some visitors by mulitiple stairways and less-abled visitors (or those encumbered with strollers for example) can access the long and winding park by select elevators. But those with any impairment or any sort of carriage must be careful not to trip over raised concrete design features that surround the planted areas embedded in the concrete surface of the park.

The Friends of High Line board boasts a few high-profile celebrities who live or work near the park (the website features a history of the High Line video narrated by the actor Ethan Hawke) and had managed to create such a buzz about the space that on opening day there was a line of people wrapped around the block, waiting (after they obtained an official wrist band) to explore this new “public” space, a handful at a time.

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Waiting in line for the High Line on opening weekend. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Many other cities around the country have looked to the High Line as a model of an innovative reuse project than can attract a lot of locals and tourists to a neighborhood but it may be important for them to take a closer look. Mr. Moss writes that the park “has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history.”

 Mr. Moss points out that according to the Friends of the High Line website, 3.7 million people paid a visit to the High Line last year and only half of them were New Yorkers. He says that the appeal of a new tourist attraction is changing the neighborhood as high-rise apartment buildings are being constructed, local business like auto shops and small diners are losing their customers and being forced to close. According to Mr. Moss, property values near the structure have increased by 103% between 2003-2011.
 
As so often happens with gentrification, Mr. Moss fears that any remaining diversity of “regular New Yorkers” will soon vanish. He writes:”Within a few years, the ecosystem disrupted by the High Line will find a new equilibrium. The aquarium-like high rises will be for the elite, along with a few exclusive locals like the Standard Hotel. But the new locals will rarely be found at street level, where chain stores and tourist-friendly restaurants will cater to the crowds of passers-by and passers-through. Gone entirely will be regular New Yorkers, the people who used to call the neighborhood home. But then the High Line was never really about them.”
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About The Accessible City

urban planner, california

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