Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The glamour of the High Line

If you're from a city like Chicago, Philadelphia, Jersey City or Saint Louis - or possibly San Francisco or Wilmington, California, Toronto or Vancouver, Canada, or Sheffield or Manchester, England - or maybe even Harlem or my home borough of Queens, or a host of other cities - you've got an old railroad or car viaduct in your town, and at least one person is saying, "what if we turned it into a linear park, like New York's High Line, or Paris's Promenade Plantée?"

If you've got anyone like that in your town, you should print them out a copy of Witold Rybczinski's excellent discussion of the economics of the High Line, and why it probably won't turn your run-down industrial neighborhood into West Chelsea unless you've got (a) dense commercial and residential development nearby, (b) a subway two blocks away, (c) lots of well-connected gay men and artists living and working within a short walk, and (d) LOTS of money, more than your town can really afford to spend.

Oh, and if your town didn't fight a major freeway revolt just a couple blocks of your wannabe High Line, it's probably too car-oriented to get anything like the High Line.

Finally, show them the great slideshow embedded in this Greater Greater Washington post about "Freedom Park" in Arlington, Virginia's Rosslyn neighborhood. Rosslyn does have art and a metro station and is fairly walkable, but it also has three large highways nearby, and the density is nowhere near as high as in Chelsea. The result is a pleasant place to have lunch, and I'm sure it's a tremendous improvement over the elevated highway that used to be there, but it's no High Line.

If you want a true pedestrian revitalization you need to challenge the dominance of cars in the city. Everything else is just an empty escape fantasy. You can't become Kim Kardashian by buying her "signature scent," you can't become Mary-Kate Olsen by wearing her "celebrity clothing line," and you can't become New York or Paris by putting up an elevated walkway to nowhere.


Stephen Smith said...

I would actually argue that this is true for all parks and public spaces, not just the High Line. Quoteth Jane Jacobs:

"We can already see that city districts with relatively large amounts of generalized park, like Morningside Heights or Harlem in New York, seldom develop intense community focus on a park and intense love for it, such as the people of Boston’s North End have for their little Prado or the people of Greenwich Village have for Washington Square, or the people of [Philadelphia's] Rittenhouse Square district have for their park. Greatly loved neighborhood parks benefit from a certain rarity value."

When she says "rarity value," I think she means both rarity of parks, but also the counterpart of a rarity of parks – lots of buildings! In other words, the denser the area (and, ergo, the fewer parks and non-built-out places), the better the parks.

- Stephen,

Matt M. said...

Speaking as a St. Louisan and one who has attended public presentations on St. Louis's proposed "High Line"-esque project (the Iron Horse Trestle)--turning St. Louis into NYC is NOT what project organizers expect the outcome of the project to be. Trust me that no one in St. Louis thinks lessons from Manhattan are directly commutable to mid-sized Midwestern metropolises. In fact, Manhattan is its own animal entirely on a national scale.

Great Rivers Greenway, developer of the Iron Horse Trestle, is just using the High Line's name to market the idea and to attract investors, since St. Louis would become only the third city in the world to have an elevated trestle park (if we can beat out those others you mention). St. Louis already has a 13-mile riverfront recreational trail that this would hook into. Even though there are plans to develop a disinvested, largely industrial area at the landing of the Iron Horse Trestle, absolutely no one at Great Rivers Greenway believes the Iron Horse Trestle project will turn the Near North Side of St. Louis into the West Side of Manhattan.

None of the renderings show high rises and glitzy retail surrounding the trestle. This project is to reconnect St. Louis to its working river and expand St. Louis's extensive bike network. No need to misrepresent our beautiful city trying to ape something it could never be! We're proud as we are. :D

giles said...

But there are lots of ways to turn a viaduct into a dynamic linear space, without doing it like the high line. Last year i wrote about a proposal for East Harlem's Metro North Viaduct that could turn a mile long segment of the empty space underneath into a marketplace for food and crafts. It's been done in immigrant neighborhoods in other cities like Amsterdam. And right now the viaduct really splits Harlem and East Harlem up and drives away pedestrians on either side. Moreover, it has a lot of density and great transit access. So while it is probably true that hollowed out industrial cities like the ones you mention shouldn't bank on the type of revival Chelsea has seen, there are also lots of different models for re-programing underused spaces like viaducts.

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