Tag Archive | Criticism

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.”

Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competency

Recently, I stumbled upon the phrase “Cultural Humility” in an article by the Berkeley Studies Media Group. I had heard of “Cultural Competency” which is based upon the notion that diverse groups of people have varying cultural norms and the importance of understanding these norms before you engage anyone from that community. For example, an acquaintance of mine used to work at a non-profit health clinic and she had told a story about an elderly woman who was deeply religious and upon hearing that she was diagnosed with cancer, she refused to seek treatment because she felt as though her cancer was a punishment from God. Many of the doctors struggled with her decision but she was determined not to seek treatment. She said there were a few examples of other women of a similar background who had shared this view as well.

Health professionals Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia were looking critically at the idea of “cultural competency” and felt that these types of examples were reflective of a choice of an individual and not necessarily the choices of a larger group. They determined that it is not only important to understand that cultural norms exist but it is also important not to believe we could ever achieve “competency” in the understanding of a particular group of people because every individual is more than just a list of traits.

They also advocate for all professionals who work with community to be humble by never being afraid to ask questions because each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being. Asking questions does not take away from your intelligence,  is a sign of respect and only benefits our understanding. And relationships of mutual respect will always be the most reciprocal.

The tenants of Cultural Humility are:
A) Lifelong Learning and Critical self-reflection:
·      Each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being.
·      Each of us comes with our own history, stories, point of view
B) Recognize and challenge Power Imbalances for Respectful Partnership:
·      Mitigate power imbalances inherent in dynamics
·      Respectful partnerships
C) Institutional Accountability:
·      Expose and criticize your own patterns of institutional racism, injustice and inequity
·      Institutions must commit to adopt these policies

It is my view that the role of an urban planner is to help facilitate the needs and wishes of a community (the experts of the area in which they live), and although the tenants of Cultural Humility were designed to influence more respectful and informed decision-making within the medical profession, I believe Cultural Humility is essential in achieving this goal.

You can watch a 30-minute documentary about Cultural Humility “Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices” by San Francisco State Professor Vivian Chávez here.