More High Line, not less.

So NYC created this marvelous thing called the High Line and it’s popular. At certain times of the day it’s even crowded (not at 8am, when the locals go). This is a problem?

I refuse to cry about tourists on the High Line. But this bitter opinion piece in The New York Times by Jeremiah Moss does just that—he points a finger at one of our newest treasures and equates it with the Disney-fication of Times Square, as though this park is somehow responsible for a more commercialized, consumerist Chelsea. That’s lazy critique, like equating a cruise ship with a schooner. He oversimplifies Chelsea and our city’s socio-economic politics in general by scapegoating one of the best things that’s happened in New York in a hundred years. Hop on over to Moss’s blog and read the comments for even more misguided High Line bashing.

Is there income inequality in NYC? Absolutely. Is it getting worse? Yes. I’m as upset about zoning chaos and overdevelopment in NYC as anyone. But blaming the High Line for the loss of our city’s middle class misses the point, like blaming the medicine for the cough. This daring piece of urban planning—once a fringe fantasy—is very much what we wished for. We should dare to dream for more High Lines throughout New York City.

Jeremiah says that Chelsea is in danger of losing the “regular New Yorkers” that once called this home, but somehow forgets to mention that the High Line passes through/near three huge low-income housing projects (Penn South, Chelsea-Elliot and Fulton Houses), bringing free access to green space, light and air to one of the most diverse, dynamic, mixed-income and mixed-age neighborhood downtown. Plenty of “regular New Yorkers” live here in Chelsea—above, beside, under and on the High Line—and they’re not going anywhere. I challenge anyone to walk along Ninth or Tenth Avenues between 14th Street and 23th and observe a more “regular” (I would call it thrilling) slice of life in this city.

So we’ve lost gas stations, parking garages and autobody shops on Tenth Avenue? Good. I won’t lament the loss of cars crowding Manhattan streets. For every one of these businesses lost I will point to five more locally-owned small businesses absolutely thriving in Chelsea—some of them brand new, some of them here for decades.

It’s difficult for me to imagine a more democratic, accessible or enjoyable idea of a park now that I’ve lived with the High Line in my backyard for a couple of years. Instead, think about how Guiliani’s proposal to tear down the High Line structure would have impacted Chelsea, a neighborhood that’s experienced a 75%+ reduction in crime since 1990.

A much more difficult and more appropriate question to ask is this one: why don’t we fund projects like the High Line in the Bronx or East New York?

Oh wait—we did, once upon a time.

If people want to get nostalgic for “old New York” then let’s look back to the explosion of civic growth in the 1890s that gave us museums, libraries, parks and zoos throughout New York City—not just Manhattan—that are still enjoyed today. The lesson isn’t “less High Line”—it’s more. And more support from local gov and developers, more sustainable models for funding these kinds of projects, and new ways to ensure that our future High Lines can survive and better serve all New Yorkers.

8 Comments

  1. Well said. Especially as Ramona and I LOVE taking advantage of the NYBG near us in the Bronx; a necessary treasure.

  2. Who knew that if we built a beautiful park and the TOURISTS would also like it!? And, at the same time, it has tragically raised the value of the property in the surrounding area.

    Why do we have to ruin our city by adding beautiful things to it? :(

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  4. and yet you can’t divorce the making of a park or public space from its political economic context. it is naive to do so and then ask “why aren’t we funding projects like this in the Bronx?” That creates a false dichotomy between two seemingly different questions that are part of the same political economic situation on a city-wide level (admittedly there’s another level where it’s simply a fact that Mr. David and Mr. Hammond didn’t live in the Bronx in the 1990′s).

    Municipal park-making has always been about real estate and giving form to the desires of power- it’s not only about that, of course, though some projects are more so than others. Rosenzweig and Blackmar’s book on Central Park makes that clear, and Olmsted and others at that time were influenced by Haussman and his cadre of landscape designers (Alphand, Andre, Thays). The political economic context shouldn’t be dismissed.

  5. Thanks for your comment Brian. I appreciate—and totally agree—that the socio-economic/political context is a part of the story (in many ways it is the story). Understanding why the High Line exists where it does today (and where it doesn’t) depends on this larger view of the city’s power structures, for better or for worse. But this context has a long history, as you know. It doesn’t begin (or end) with the HL, and that was precisely my problem with the NYT piece, which oversimplified everything by blaming the park—an easy target because it’s new, different, praised etc.

    “Why not in the Bronx” was not an innocent question but more to make a point like yours—that context cannot be dismissed—and that the dynamic that fuels tourism, over-development and gentrification is complex and city-wide. Inequity in NYC is a real problem. I do think a good question to ask is how can we continue to create beautiful parks but plan for them more equitably throughout the city, not just in downtown Manhattan.

    NYC has had periods when visionary planning extended to the city’s boundaries, and we could use a little of that perspective today. The power structures that created Central Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York Botanical Garden and Prospect Park may no longer exist but we continue to enjoy the results.

    I am interested in questions like “why not in the Bronx” because they lead to painful answers about who is or isn’t privileged in NYC. I worry about Chelsea’s overdevelopment but at the same time like to think that the HL will remain a treasure—perhaps in ways that we can’t anticipate—50 or 100 years from now.

  6. good points (and I appreciate the response). I’m wary of municipal parks as a the default answer to a lack of space more generally. Municipal parks a particular type of space that carry a political-economic stance with them, and I think there are other forms of public investment in different landscape typologies, ones that don’t carry with them the overt relationship to real estate development.

    I think the parks where you live (in LIC, correct?) and which I personally worked on a bit are a great example- nice parks, serious public investment, but directly leading to, or at least wrapped up with, a certain political-economic agenda (which is always the case with landscapes of any kind). I also don’t think gentrification is bad necessarily, but sometimes it is, and it is always bad for some folks.

    All that to say, if we put the High Line in the Bronx or East NY, if it was successful it would lead to gentrification, and if it didn’t the residents would be blamed as not worthy of that investment, when in fact maybe they just don’t want a 19th century landscape typology geared toward improving real estate values (and providing certain aesthetic and social experiences) dropped into their neighborhood. Well, at least that’s my thought on it. I think this is the reason for the blowback on Moss’ blog and other similar responses in other situations, which i read a bit of and then had enough. Thoughts?

    [i appreciate the criticism of the NYTimes piece. They took the easy road- boring and rather lame, and not respectful of a lot of well-intentioned and smart work that has been done, whatever the good and bad results]

  7. It sounds like you must own your apartment the way you speak so highly of the effects of the high line… You mention that Jeremiah forgot to mention Penn South and Chelsea-Elliott and those places, but I have never seen these type of people hanging on the high line. Penn South are cheap coops with low income restrictions, not exactly the projects. The three people I personally know who lives there would never go to the high line, they are already intimidated by the sort of people that hang out at high line. In the case of the two projects nearby I’ve never seen the type of people that hang out on benches in the projects hanging out on the high line. Let’s not go crazy on saying the high line with noticeable security in the age of stop and frisk is an open space inviting for people for the NYCHA.

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