Thursday, August 23, 2012

if you build it...

They will come... and they will continue to come. 

A recent Op Ed piece from the NY Times talks about the overwhelming success of the High Line and discusses the effect on the neighborhoods the park snakes through. The author observes, similar to what I have noticed in recent visits, that the park has become over crowded and a magnet for tourists. 

Further, the author brings up the radical transformation of West Chelsea that has spawned from the High Line. Where once working class people and light industry occupied homes and warehouses, over the years, these people have been pushed out and local, middle class shops and industry pushed out in favor of luxury housing and high end retail. Much of this gentrification has been brought on by the High Line, even as far as the rezoning of much of the neighborhood to allow for a multitude of new, multi-million dollar housing endeavors. 

So, from one vantage point, one can say the High Line has been a success, transforming a once neglected set of infrastructure and catalyzing a major change in the community. However, from the opposite view, the extreme success has contributed to one of the highest rates of gentrification in Manhattan. Also, if we imagine what the place will become in 5, 10, 15 years, it's possible to imagine major, global corporations to infiltrate the real estate. The author uses the example of Sephora and the idea that the current businesses, as trendy as they may be, just won't be able to compete financially with larger corporations.  

From the perspective of landscape architecture, it's amazing what one project is able to do - grab the attention of the world, the rich, the famous and the curious. It's also amazing how powerful the brand is and how much it will continue to strengthen. 

It makes me think, though, what if the design language was different from the beginning - what if the design wasn't as much about slick contemporary forms and attractive gathering spaces but instead about maintaining the wild vegetation that had grown over years and just allowing simple access? As the author points out, what if it was for the people living there at the moment, not for those who would eventually come?

How would that affect the way we are talking about the High Line now?

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