NYC 2016: Changing High Line pt.1

From an industrial rail to a park

I am quite sure that everyone who is into urban planning and urban development especially in industrial areas is familiar with the High Line. But if not, let’s revise the history quickly. The High Line was an elevated rail that ran from 34th Street to St John’s Park Terminal. As the goods traffic ended in 1980, a group of property owners lobbied for demolition, but thanks to local activists, planning for the reuse started in the early 2000s instead. Finally, the first part of the new park was opened in 2009.

I was lucky to visit it soon after its opening in 2010. I was interested in urban fallow visions and city transforming through regeneration. The High Line was a perfect example of those optimistic visions becoming true. Back then only the first part from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street was open. Nevertheless, I was thrilled. The transformation was successful – there was a distinctive touch of the industrial past left to see and the landscape architecture adapts to the existing structures seamlessly. The park seemed to be very popular then, and now even more. The latest figures show it has nearly 6 million visitors per year.

P1070188.JPGThe High Line, second section.

High Line and surroundings go hand in hand

Obviously the development of the High Line park has benefited a lot from the on-going gentrification of Meatpacking District and Chelsea. The area has transformed into one of the trendiest – and most expensive – neighbourhoods, and for example Chelsea Market in that area is another successful example of industrial turned commercial. In 2005, much of West Chelsea was rezoned to allow the reuse of High Line and to encourage the residential development and the use of former industrial spaces as art galleries, while maintain the mix of residential, light industrial and retail uses.

NYC 2016 (29) muok.jpg520 West 28th is advertised to the strollers on the High Line.

The success of the High Line and other projects has attracted high-end architecture and investments in Chelsea-Meatpacking District area. Back in 2010 there were already shiny new buildings surrounding the High Line, such as the world headquarters of IAC by Frank Gehry and the residential building “Vision Machine” by Jean Nouvel. Now I noticed the well-advertised Zaha Hadid design, which is a luxury apartment building, and Thomas Juul’s new double apartment complex. Many residential or commercial buildings, often designed by big names, are yet to be finished. Everybody is trying to ride the High Line wave. But with the visitor numbers like these, who wouldn’t? The cityscape around the High Line is mixed and puzzle-like and tolerates well different types of buildings. The big object-like buildings are observed from an elevated level, which makes the scenery far more interesting than observing from the street level.  The starchitect designs are changing the High Line more like an architecture outdoor gallery though, adding the hype and making prices skyrocket.

NYC 2016 (48).JPGIAC headquarters and the Vision Machine seen from the High Line.

At the southern end there is the new building of Whitney Museum of American Art. It is designed by Renzo Piano, and includes approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. I think that along the outdoor architecture gallery the museum fits in the place perfectly. Coming from the north, it frames the view elegantly.

NYC 2016 (148)_muok.jpgThe terraced building of Whitney Museum of  American Art.

NYC 2016 (21)_muok2.jpgWhitney’s main entrance creates a pleasant plaza in the front.

Hudson Yards development

The third section of the High Line opened in September 2014. The part seems to be still very much in progress, especially because there is a large construction site next to the railyard. I found out that this site is the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States, the Hudson Yards. When completed in 2024, 125 000 people a day will work in, visit, or live in Hudson Yards. I was surprised to find out that the High Line is barely mentioned in their site although one third of it literally wraps around the development site. The High Line is featured as “a neighbouring park”. Curious!

P1070146.JPGHudson Yards site.

Success attracts everybody

The smell of success attracts the most imaginative projects to hop on the High Line train. Recently, a project called the Lowline, an underground park, got New York City’s official approval. Although this project is not connected with the High Line as far as I can tell, just the name alone connects it with its predecessor. The Lowline Lab is yet to be visited, hopefully there is time for it next week.

More reflecting on the High Line following soon in an another post!

-Laura

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