Bashing New York's High Line as "Disney On The Hudson"

high lineHigh Line On A Warm Spring Day/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

When I visited the High Line in New York in May, I could barely move on it, and wondered if it had became like that famous New York restaurant that Yogi Berra talked about when he said "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded." It's become fashionable in New York to bash the High Line, and Jeremiah Moss bashes with the best in his New York Times op-ed, Disney World on the Hudson

As the High Line’s hype grew, the tourists came clamoring. Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.

He bemoans the gentrification of the area.

This is good news for the elite economy but not for many who have lived and worked in the area for decades. It’s easy to forget that until very recently, even with the proliferation of art galleries near the West Side Highway, West Chelsea was a mix of working-class residents and light-industrial businesses.

Now I am hesitant to call Moss a sanctimonious whiner, like some do on his website, and I do not live in New York, which makes me tourist scum. But really, since the Gehry Guggenheim put Bilbao on the map, there has not been as good an example of how investment in public cultural infrastructure and good design yields such fabulous returns. It is perhaps the best example of how preservation and repurposing of the old can attract the new.

high line 2Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I am sorry that it became so successful that they had to dumb it down for phase 2, but there were so many trip hazards in phase 1 that with these kinds of crowds, they probably had no choice. But for Moss to say that the High Line is "is destroying neighborhoods as it grows" is naive; take a trip across the river and have a look at destroyed neighborhoods, really.

That's what cities do; forget Jane Jacobs as an urban theorist and remember Norman Mailer, who wrote "For there was that law of life, so cruel and so just, which demanded that one must change or pay more for staying the same."

High line eveningIt's a little quieter in the evening/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The high line is being imitated, sometimes slavishly and inappropriately, all over the world. But the real lessons of it are that people are attracted to beautiful things, people like to walk if they are given a safe place to do it, and that investment follows infrastructure.

Tags: Designers | New York City


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