High Life, High Line: A Beautiful Curse

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Among urbanist circles it’s more iconic than the Statue of Liberty (and sexier). In 2009, a derelict elevated rail line in the lower westside of Manhattan was re-born as an elevated greenway and it took 10 years for the project to come to fruition. Today, two section of the High Line are open with the third and final phase to start in the near future.

This summer, I spent some  time New York and went more than once to the High Line. I knew I had to visit it and I knew I’d love it but I didn’t realize how much I would and how conflicting this would feel. In a word, it’s simply gorgeous. The design is superb and compared to the Promenade Plantee I visited in 2010, the High Line is a much more holistic experience. While both wonderfully whisk you away from the busy traffic below, the High Line is visual stunning and just begs you to explore it using all your other senses, too (though, the park is pretty finicky about actually keeping you away from the plants…).

I could tell it was a huge success in many respects. It was always busy (but not too crowded) I found that most of  the people on the High Line were actually tourists by themselves or being shown around by their New York friends. It was funny to drop in on some of their conversations that their New York guides were  leading. It seemed most of them praised the project but some out-of-towners soon realized the paradox that is the High Lines success.

One lady asked if they realized that the development sprouting up all around the park will eventually blot out the sun! Aye, there’s the rub! The High Line has generated a lot of investment in the area and development has picked up. Some new buildings even have direct access to the High Line as a selling feature. Indeed, it’s been critiqued as Disney World on the Hudson. The critique is certainly valid based on what I experienced – the world above the street was nothing like below it but the one on top seemed to be winning and, more than likely, they will converge. So there lies the dilemma of improving your neighbourhood. A professor once so eloquently said that soon he’ll need to start scheduling drive-by shootings just to keep his rent down.

An excerpt from Jeremiah Moss’s article:

While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor — albeit a well-heeled one — it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side. As socialites and celebrities championed the designer park during its early planning stages, whipping community support into a heady froth, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development in 2005.

The neighborhood has since been completely remade. Old buildings fell and mountain ranges of glassy towers with names like High Line 519 and HL23 started to swell — along with prices.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation published a study last year stating that before the High Line was redeveloped, “surrounding residential properties were valued 8 percent below the overall median for Manhattan.” Between 2003 and 2011, property values near the park increased 103 percent.

All photos are by Brandon Yan

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2 responses to “High Life, High Line: A Beautiful Curse

  1. If you had property in Chelsea BHL (Before High Line), you’d definitely be either richer or neighbourhood/view poorer now. Its definitely a great space and a great new addition to New York, but it is definitely going to accelerate the uber-gentrification of the mid-West side without better planning and preservation of existing structures and views…

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