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High In NY

Richard John is in a New York State of mind 

There’s a lot written about urban regeneration and how to bring life back to cities when industries reach the end of their life. Major events are a great force for renewals in cities when properly thought through, as Barcelona demonstrates (and Athens doesn’t.)

But on a quick visit to New York, while having a look at what was happening around the Javitts Centre, I stumbled upon the High Line. It’s a project started in 2006 to transform long-neglected railway tracks into an aerial park. In September 2018 the third and final section opened to the public, completing the 1.5 miles that now cuts across 22 city blocks in the South West corner of Manhattan. 

The route attracts 5m visits a year and has been the catalyst to spur development in the areas it passes. 

Originating in the Lower West Side of Manhattan, the route runs from the Meatpacking District to 34th Street. It’s open 12 hours a day and attractions include more than 120 species of plants. The High Line plays host to numerous cultural attractions as part of a long-term plan for the park to host temporary art installations for both sound and light performances many of which reflect the industries that used the railway line. There’s even an open-air theatre overlooking a road junction.

Now, the thing is such projects don’t come cheaply; the 14-year programme has cost more than $300m, funded by the City and corporate supporters. However, direct benefits include providing jobs for more than 100 people. The formerly ‘gritty’ neighbourhood of Chelsea has been gentrified. New buildings have been built and properties values along the route in the area have risen by 10%. And crime on the High Line is virtually zero. So, yes, it’s a substantial investment, but the payback can be immense, in both financial and social returns. Moreover, research suggests it cost substantially less to redevelop an abandoned urban rail line into something like High Line than to demolish it. 

On your next visit to New York take a stroll out of Javitts and find the High Line. 

It is a genuine breath of fresh air.

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