26 August 2012


Highline before - from designcollector.net

It's a school of thought that often gets repeated. Because it sounds so knowing.

Architectural Record linked an opinion piece in the New York Times recently with the notion that the Highline Project (New York's elevated park situated atop old railway trestles) was contributing to an unusually quick rate of gentrification to a portion of Manhattan. The gist of this opinion piece is that this much lauded urban design was in fact actually another 'Disneyfication' of the City, plugging a homogenized tourist trap in to a working-class part of town, driving up the real-estate values, driving out the working class residents and businesses, ruining another part of town. It's an easy read, and a well worn theme. The designers and the well-to-do have foisted another Trojan on the rubes. 'You thought you were getting a nice park… HA! Now move someplace else!'

Just so you don't think the OP writer lacks imagination, he throws n stuff like "...a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history...”. This is rapid, so it is even more of a thing to revile.

Jane Jacobs was completely right when she spoke of the districts of town with cheaper rents as being the incubators of future businesses, and with inexpensive nearby housing, they are the genesis of great and vital neighborhoods. But how could these places ever be static? By the very nature of their success, these places become more desirable places to live and work, and the underlying value of property goes up. The idea that something like the Highline, as a community catalyst is bad because it is 'rapidly gentrifying', is crazy laughable.

New York, and most other places, is bad at making places, on purpose, for folks with less money to live. It's bad at making places for businesses to start up and grow, when a neighborhood becomes 'trendy'. These are things that are difficult, but it doesn't mean they're not possible to do.

So we have another option piece by someone who is tired of all the new tourists, and grief-stricken at what has done for the surrounding neighborhood. And like most of his Gentrification predecessors, he can't put anything together on how you could have done this or any other project for the neighborhood, and avoid the displacing effect.

Over time, the tourist appeal of the Highline will diminish, and its infrastructure will burnish itself into the surrounding neighborhood. Hopefully it will be kept it good repair, to be treasured for many years to come. The displaced will find other quarters in the Burroughs, and some will still survive in the shadows of the trestles as before. The Highline is elevated and separated from the street, as you would expect, but there are opportunities in the future for other buildings and access ways to tie in. Surprising links will be established, including to the ground. The comparison to isolated theme parks or Huston sky-bridges that willfully separate themselves from the city fabric will fall aways over time as silly arguments.

We need places for the working class to live, and places for low-margin businesses to get a foothold. Stopping imaginative design projects that catalyze portions of cities for improvement is not the way to do that.

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