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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.