Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, April 01, 2011

National Geographic Magazine story on NYC's High Line

New York City High Line Park
The High Line once stretched farther into lower Manhattan, often passing right through factories. That southernmost section was torn down in the 1960s, long before any thought of turning the line into a park. Photo by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel/National Geographic. Photo from the April 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands now.

The High Line Park in New York City is an unusual creation, crafted from an above-ground freight railroad line that was built originally to serve various manufacturing operations on Manhattan's Lower West Side. The trackage was built above ground, replacing previous services that had been at-grade (on the streets). As manufacturing operations left Manhattan or were otherwise shut down, the railroad line was abandoned in 1980, although CSX Transportation still owned the facility.

In the late 1990s, CSX proposed demolishing the structure. The Friends of the High Line group proposed an alternative, creating an above-ground park. Over a 10 year period the group raised funds, gained city support, got control of the property (CSX donated it), and began construction. The first segment opened in 2009.
New York City High Line Park
It's a great example of transformational public realm projects that address "blight" in unique and creative ways.

Architecture writer Paul Goldberger has a piece about the High Line, "Miracle Above Manhattan: New Yorkers can float over busy streets in an innovative park" in the April issue of National Geographic Magazine.

From the story:

Parks in large cities are usually thought of as refuges, as islands of green amid seas of concrete and steel. When you approach the High Line in the Chelsea neighborhood on the lower west side of Manhattan, what you see first is the kind of thing urban parks were created to get away from—a harsh, heavy, black steel structure supporting an elevated rail line that once brought freight cars right into factories and warehouses and that looks, at least from a distance, more like an abandoned relic than an urban oasis.

Until recently the High Line was, in fact, an urban relic, and a crumbling one at that. Many of its neighbors, as well as New York's mayor for much of the 1990s, Rudolph Giuliani, couldn't wait to tear it down. His administration, aware that Chelsea was gentrifying into a neighborhood of galleries, restaurants, and loft living, felt the surviving portion of the High Line, which winds its way roughly a mile and a half from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street (a section farther south was torn down years ago), was an ugly deadweight. They were certain this remnant of a different kind of city had to be removed for the neighborhood to realize its full potential.

Never have public officials been so wrong. Almost a decade after the Giuliani administration tried to tear the High Line down, it has been turned into one of the most innovative and inviting public spaces in New York City and perhaps the entire country.

Credit: National Geographic Magazine.

(While not a project on the scale of the High Line, I do think that the park creation initiative along the Potomac River waterfront in Georgetown, on what were once surface parking lots, is an example of a similar kind of project that over time can contribute a great deal to community quality of life.)

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