Thursday, August 30, 2012

High Line Op-Ed Response

It's been a week since my High Line op-ed came out in the Times and it's been interesting to read the response to it. The comments on this blog and its Facebook page were overwhelmingly supportive and positive, as were all the emails I received, including notes from several journalists. Many people commented that the op-ed gave them a sense of relief. "It needed to be said," said one, "but everyone else was afraid to say it."

This speaks to the power of the High Line as a sacred cow. It must not be questioned or criticized. People will get upset. [*Update: The Founders of the High Line posted their official response to my Op-Ed. It amazes me that one piece of criticism in an ocean of praise would inspire such a rallying of troops. If the High Line were a person, s/he'd be a bit insecure.]

A number of responses came out on other blogs. While Choire Sicha at The Awl and Kelly Chan at ArtInfo were largely in favor, author Matthew Gallaway and artist Paul Soulellis took offense. Treehugger wasn't crazy about it, either. And, of course, there were several unhappy commenters, here and on other blogs.

Rather than respond to each piece individually, I've summed up the main arguments against the op-ed and respond to them here.



The High Line is pretty and green, therefore it is made of perfect, total goodness.

1. You're right, the High Line is pretty and green.

2. Nothing is totally good. You might wish it to be that way, but in reality things are more complicated.


The High Line is innocent. It had nothing to do with gentrification in Chelsea. That process was already happening before the High Line got there. Saying the High Line is a gentrification machine is like "equating a cruise ship with a schooner" or "blaming the medicine for the cough" or something like that.

1. Yes, gentrification was already happening there, mostly around the Meatpacking District. But the High Line gave it a tremendous boost and helped to push it north. There is a direct link between the High Line and hyper-gentrification, especially of the area between Meatpacking and Bloomberg's Hudson Yards redevelopment. The Friends of the High Line co-founders talk about it quite openly in their book High Line, as when they explain how then Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff signed on to the park plan because they gave him a yes to the question, “Do you think that the community likes the High Line enough to make them supportive of the rezoning in West Chelsea?”

2. Several high-profile articles have been published that champion the High Line as a revitalizer of neighborhoods and an "economic dynamo." These articles put a positive spin on it, but the reality is the same--the High Line has helped to hyper-gentrify West Chelsea, and that means pushing some people out and bringing some people in. My argument is no different, it just comes from the critical side of the same reality.

3. What are you saying about schooners? I'm not following you.


You're a real complainer.

1. Yes, I am, and proud of it.

2. Complaining is one way of raising people's consciousness and maybe even getting things to change.


You're completely ignoring the fact that poor people live in New York City, too. In fact, your article doesn't say anything about people in other neighborhoods like in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Poor people want gentrification. I bet all the poor people who lived in the Bronx in the 1970s would love to have a High Line in their neighborhood today.

1. My article was about West Chelsea, not about other neighborhoods.

2. Many poor people (not all) do often welcome the first stages of gentrification--hoping for jobs and safety--until they get run out of their own neighborhoods by it. Then they're not so thrilled.


The High Line is right near a bunch of NYCHA housing projects, so having those poor people around balances out all the wealth moving in.

1. Correct, there is NYCHA housing nearby.

2. Balance? Have you taken a walk over there lately?


You're a gentrifier yourself--you're part of these big changes. You have no idea what it's like to be poor and want nice things (like artisanal popsicles).

1. I arrived in the East Village at least 30 years after gentrification had begun there. Did I benefit from that gentrification? Yes, I did.

2. My family was on welfare when I was a kid. I didn't live in abject poverty, but I have some idea what it's like to want and not have.

3. If you read it carefully, you'd know that my Op-Ed is not about the old-fashioned, gradual gentrification process. It's about government-engineered hyper-gentrification, which is a different animal. As CUNY professor Neil Smith explained here: In the 1980s "Gentrification became a systematic attempt to remake the central city, to take it back from the working class, from minorities, from homeless people, from immigrants who, in the minds of those who decamped to the suburbs, had stolen the city from its rightful white middle-class owners. What began as a seemingly quaint rediscovery of the drama and edginess of the new urban 'frontier' became in the 1990s broad-based market driven policy."


You want to go back to the 1970s. I guess you must love crime.

1. No, actually, I wasn't crazy about the 70s my first time around.

2. That tired, old "you like crime" argument is too stupid to address.


"It’s not wrong to want a coffee shop and a bakery... Believe it or not, people without millions of dollars also like to drink coffee and have fresh bread."

1. Are we still talking about the High Line?

2. I have nothing against coffee and bread, I swear.


In your piece, you don't even mention how pretty and well-designed the High Line is!

1. Yes, it is pretty.

2. About a million high-profile articles have talked about the High Line's physical attractiveness. I didn't think more praise was necessary--unless the High Line suffers from low self-esteem that must be continually propped up because it just feels so empty inside.


You're an elitist, snobbish Minuteman patrolling a border, trying to keep tourists out of New York City.

1. I don't have the power to keep anybody out of New York City. I wish I did. The city today would be very different.

2. Tourists from America and Europe are not the same as impoverished Mexican immigrants trying to find a better life--that's not a good analogy.

3. I don't hate tourists. Some of my best friends are tourists. But I do have a problem with Bloomberg turning New York into a city for tourists, instead of a city for its residents.

4. When did the right-wing Republican rhetoric of "elitist" become a weapon within Manhattan against the people who live here? Really, I want to know.


Autobody shops are closing! Who cares? They're dirty and cars are bad. You must be in love with autobody shops. Furthermore, people who drive cars are elitists.

1. Those autobody shops are (or were) run by small businesspeople and their families. Some of them for generations. That counts for something. At least, it used to. But maybe you'd prefer they get replaced by artisanal coffee shops and high-end bread bakeries--nothing elitist about that.

2. These mom-and-pop businesses will be replaced by corporate luxury chains or high-end condos. That's the antithesis of diversity.

3. I'm not in love with autobody shops. I don't own a car. The product is not the point. If those shops fixed umbrellas or made shoelaces, I'd point out their mass disappearance, too, and it would have nothing to do with any passion for umbrellas or shoelaces.

4. Again with elitist? What is that about? Fellow complainer Fran Lebowitz put it well when she said, "When Republicans, for instance, you know, disparage elites, they don't mean rich people. They love rich people. They mean smart people." So, if by "elitist" you mean I'm smart and want other people to be smart, too, then thank you.


But the High Line is so pretty! Why do you hate it so much?

1. Yes, once again, the High Line is pretty. It's pretty. It's very pretty!

2. Did I say I hated the High Line? I hate what it's doing to the neighborhood, true, but I also have complicated feelings about the thing itself, aside from its impact.

3. Do you believe that criticizing is the same as hating? Those aren't the same things. I criticize many things that I actually like and that only enhances my experience of it. We need to think more critically about more things more of the time. Our city would be better off if we did.

41 comments:

Ennuipoet said...

Elitist? They keep using that word, I do not think it means what they think it means.

Multimillion dollar apartments and high end chains stores selling $500 t-shirt and $1500 handbags...now that is what I would elitist.

Ed said...

There was an interesting comment thrown in about whether poor people benefit from what Jeremiah terms "the initial stages of gentrification" (which as he points out is not what has been happening in Chelsea anyway) about whether the poor residents of the neighborhood benefited from it becoming safer.

Was there a solution to the problem of urban poverty on offer other than shifting people around within parts of the metropolitan area?

Anonymous said...

The op-ed piece went over the heads of those that were against it. Paul is a tourist, who doesn't even live in NYC. Matthew is a transplant who wants to have most of NYC disappear.

'Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.'

'Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.'

--Nietzsche

Those who call us whiners are more of a whiner.

And just to echo you, those who took offense to the piece are attracted to the consistent and gratifying and cling to the known. The op-ed piece set them into an unafamilar setting, which gave them an anxiety, an irrational fear of annihilation that sends them into a primitive, infantile rage.

JAZ said...

I'll say this, which always seems to be the case with the types of people who wouldn't see the overwhelming downside to the High Line: those that most need to read Neil Smith are the ones who would be least likely to do so.

Of course, these same people probably think 'CUNY' is a new fashion label.

Anonymous said...

I live next to the High Line for 35 years and have been swarmed by giant expensive apartment buildings.
I hope all the rotten parts of NYC next to the High Line don't disappear. I like that the most.

I'm wondering, had the High Line been torn down, would it have been replaced by big box stores or some kind of shopping strip. I wouldn't like that very much either.

I don't think Bloomberg would just leave this area to rot.

I don't know what should happen.
I do wish that guy would stop playing the trombone all day long on the High Line outside my window. How much trombone can one listen to?

Shlumphuss said...

Look, 50% or higher top marginal tax rates with all the loopholes slashed, and equal rates for capital gains as for wages and income would rapidly take care of the fiscal and structural imbalances the country and city all face, but they would also mean the glamorati and their yunnie progeny would have far less money to throw around.

We have witnessed a decades-long assault on the middle class and working classes (the poor have been under attack since Nixon), and the result has been the shift of more and more resources, as well as power, to the elites, especially those connected to Wall Street and its squid-like appendages, who are rapidly hypergentrifying New York City.

Wasn't it enough that they caused the global economic crisis on top of everything else? I guess not. They're even in striking distance of gaining total power by putting Romney and Ryan in the White House. If you thought the W Bush terms were bad, just wait for this destructive duo!

timmmyk said...

Empty barrels make the most noise. Example: The Chelsea Blues guy, who sits at the corner of 23rd & 7th in front of the Beth Israel DOCS center/Savoy Hotel is a well liked, colorful musical addition to the neighborhood; so much so that members of Carlos Santana's band, when visiting the Chelsea Guitar center, liked and encouraged him so much that they bought him a guitar. He is pleasant and adds a nice dimension to our neighborhood. One of the Yunnies bitterly bitched and moaned about him in the comments section of the NY Times piece about the Blues Guy to which quite a lot of folks from the nabe called out the Yunny for being an asshat. Who knows what these pissy bitches want out of city living anyway aside from drinking without driving.

Anonymous said...

No matter what happens, no matter how NYC changes, you can still see a rat the size of a loaf of bread at 3am crossing the street.

That is the NYC I still love and no one, no republican, no gentifying elitest condo builder, no hipster wanna-be can ever take that away.

You may get your sqeeky clean streets, but under every step you take is a swarming writhing population of roaches and rats. :)

Thank about that next time you have a meal in your 200 dollar a plate BS crap change restuarant that replaced a hard working family business.

Jason Cochran said...

I loved your op-ed and your response. I have lived within a block of the High Line for 15 years and the neighborhood leapfrogged the financial means of nearly everyone here. I am always surprised to realize that very few New Yorkers know the special air rights deal that was cut to make the High Line happen: If you owned land under or around it, you were granted the right to sell air rights in the neighborhood as compensation for never being able to build on your High Line land. That's what has been feeding all the massive tall construction, and that is what contributes the most to ruining the neighborhood. This is one aspect of the High Line that is rarely mentioned, but to me it's the most critical. (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/the_ky_the_limit_bFrLJmIMikdWwh32XestgL)

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog, but I am not sure how this became political. I am a conservative republican and I think what you are doing serves a very good purpose.

Democrats have run NYC for decades and most of the lack of improvement, empty buildings, sky high cost of living can be traced to this one party rule.

Competition, political or business, is healthy and benefits all people.

goatsflee said...

Agree with ennuipoet. Methinks the elitists could do with a bit of self-realization.

I was so excited about the High Line project. Was always tempted to climb up there. Now, not so much. And I haven't even seen the new, "improved" High Line. Not sure I want to - it sounds too much like Times Square, which I avoided like the plague during the 15 years I enjoyed living on the Lower East Side.

goatsflee said...

Agree with ennuipoet. Methinks elitists could do with a little self-realization.

Was really excited about the High Line project. Now, not so much. And I haven't even seen it. Not sure I want to - sounds too much like Times Square, which I avoided like the plague during the 15 years I enjoyed living on the Lower East Side.

glamma said...

God (Buddha?) bless you Jeremiah, you are your stomach of steal. Keep trucking, brother! xoxo

fierce prey said...

This high-line article really makes me wonder what is going to happen with the "low-line" that is being planned for the LES - which is my home.

I am about to have a kid so I welcome some forms of gentrification, but I have lived here for 15 years and I feel alienated from what the neighborhood has become already. Change is part of new york but as someone who works in education & the arts & make roughly about 50,000 a year (not bad for an art job) - I am struggling to fit into this place that has been my home for over a decade, none the less afford it (even though I am stablized).

Ms. said...

Oh Jeremiah
Try as we might, we can never get those who don't experience the erosion of affordable housing, affordable communities with real community connections, and affordable 'life styles', to comprehend what those broken connections mean to us, much less, what they feel like. I know old folks who don't go out anymore because the pace of things has gotten too fast, the people they encounter too self absorbed to notice them, much less care about them the way that 'mom and pop' at the vanished store used to. There are no neighborhood benches to gather for a chat, the lights at street crossings have speeded up the time allotted for that maneuver, the young-uns have too many places to be in too great a hurry to step, graciously, out of the way, or wait for a slow elder at the check out without exhibiting rancor, the stores are too expensive for limited incomes, and the parties too loud for peace of mind. Hospitals have converted to condominium penthouses, and churches into dance palaces. Everything is geared to commerce, and fashioned to suit the bottom line cash return. Sure, there's still free culture if you can navigate the transportation challenges, and bear with the lines to get to it. It's not just the elders who suffer. We of the lower income classes, of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, skin colors and preferences, suffer too. We know change is inevitable, sometimes even necessary, but we wanted to be included in the plans. We are less at home in a City we used to feel a more intimate connection to, and we know we are less welcome.

Thankfully, you, by your careful noting, and posting, do welcome us still.

Goggla said...

@Ms - beautifully said.

And, thanks again, Jeremiah. You speak for so many of us.

Anonymous said...

Bring back the trains.

Yes, I'm serious.

- East Villager

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your op-ed, and I feel for the people who for generations have called this neighborhood home (or business home), but I think it is against our American ideologies to hamper development for the sake of the status quo.
And despite my working class status, I have enjoyed some artisanal ices and overpriced but delicious hand-drip coffee. Sorry, I don't buy this poor people can't afford it excuse when the same people have iphones and 40k cars.
It's hard to criticize capitalism at work. It would be an entirely different story if the businesses were taken under the threat of eminent domain, like the businesses in Willets Point, Queens.

Jeremiah Moss said...

you guys are the best. i love you guys. (and i'm not drunk.) seriously. contemporary urban alienation is a lot easier to face when you have virtual connections like this. the aloneness is not so alone. thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for about 2 years and am consistently impressed with and grateful for your lucid and honest writing. I also was thrilled when the op-ed was posted and agreed with it wholeheartedly.

I grew up in this city as the child of two artists who came to New York City in the 70s/80s because they loved it unconditionally. Since last Fall, I've returned to school in Chelsea...Which has been more often than not devastating.

And no...People usually do not want to hear about the negative aspects of the High Line, the excoriation of the Chelsea Hotel or the amount of small, privately owned businesses closing in lieu of chains. I think in some ways, this is because a veneer of New York is just as valid to them (if not easier to swallow) than the actual city.

So I want to thank you for this wonderful and necessary blog. This isn't elitism at work, it's common sense.

laura said...

"J" when you said the highline was crowded, i didnt get it. this is not "crowded", this is almost being trampoled on in a riot. i cant see anything but people. its like the subway during rush hour but more air. for this many people you do need guards. if you didnt, it would be a filthy mess. it is like new years eve in times square. i cant even see if it is "pretty" as you say. as for luxury condos, i wonder if this is the view? still, it beats box stores, or bars. wait untill the dead of winter, then take a walk, it may be refreshing.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great responses, Jeremiah. Keep up the great work you do!

Anonymous said...

i love you guys. (and i'm not drunk.)

I love your blog, and I AM drunk.
You don't have to publish this comment, but seriously, I think you are doing a wonderful thing. Thank you for all your work and effort, and thank you for keeping at it. You are an important recorder of history. I CAN NOT EMPHASIZE HOW IMPORTANT THAT IS.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thank YOU!

Caleo said...

Agree with other comments, you are definitely producing a record of important changes. Many of the changes are micro in scale, but as the years roll on, it adds up to something monumental.
And you, more so than any other blogger, has given a voice to all of us out there who feel too blank or powerless to create this record on a daily basis. I read your blog every day, and have for several years. Your writing is always great, and sometimes truly outstanding.
Thanks many times over for all the effort you have put into this. The soul of old New York, and the ghosts that haunt these streets thank you as well.

Anonymous said...

ibilJeremiah,

I, too, love and appreciate your writing. It's the first thing I read when I have regained consciousness, and usually I regret it, because it's a constant reminder of how our city is being demolished, destroyed and maimed.

I miss the days of TAKI183 scribbled all over the subway system (it was really disgusting) and the sordid filth in the stations (ditto). I miss the sides of meat and bloody gutters of Meatpacking when it was really about meat.

But I digress. Your NYT Op-Ed comments indicate that you're dealing with a bunch of stoopid people and many who will never appreciate how change is not always good.

Keep on doing what you do and being the voice of reason in an unreasonable city. You're a gem!

laura said...

"J" i hope this tells you something. you need maintain this blog later. when you have the book tours the interviews. even if you take a month off & return p/t. the blog itself is an anthology, the comments, the photos, the interviews. its a second book.

Anonymous said...

Wussssssssss sssssssup Highline,

It's your boy Bizzle Dizzle. It's labor day weekend and me and the crew will be visiting you for the first time on Sunday. Can't wait to fire up the BBQ, crank up Nickleback and get it HOT up on there! Will there be vendors that sell coals and lighter fluid? How about renting chairs to lay out for the day? This is going to be sweeeeet. I hear there's some hot chicks up there. I'm so glad the weird guys who dress up as girls aren't there anymore. So gross. Wonder why they call it meatpacking:). HeHe. Ok, off to get ready for the big weekend. Should I wear my red Aeropostle shirt or dress up a bit and wear my Colts NFL-licensed jersey?

~Bryce Allen

Marcel Albet Guinart said...

Jeremiah, aunque no sé escribir en inglés si lo puedo leer. Soy un fiel seguidor de tus posts. Yo intento hacer algo parecido en mi blog sobre Barcelona

Anonymous said...

I look at it this way. Since a huge majority of New Yorkers are from somewhere else, I would ask the pro-Gentryfiers (or cheerleaders of NY 2.0) how would they feel if they went back to their home town and everything had changed. All their friends and family had been priced out and forced to move. The place was filled to the brim with tourists 24/7, and they couldnt even afford to have dinner or buy a new pair of jeans anymore as all the stores and restaurants were overpriced? By the way, I am a Conservative on most issues. So this political bashing is unwarranted and really unhelpful.

laura said...

anon 12:02: eminent domain is popular w/the democrats as well. i remember a case several years ago in conn. a developer wanted to demolish an entire working class neighborhood w/old victorians, the owners lived there, as well as tenents. they said they needed to build a mall to "create jobs" (& the homes were not in great shape). it was the republican judge susan day, who over ruled the developer. people on this blog have to stop living in the past, dem& republican are the same animal "most" of the time! the political party now is the CORPORATION! (interesting to note, the gentrified crowd is mostly white educated liberals- go figure)

Anonymous said...

spatial deconcentration mr moss, i believe that is what neil smith is talking about. but it's been going on in some form since the
early 20th century. really became an issue following the kerner commission. had to demobilize the blacks, had to spread them out, neutralize their burgeoning power. and now here we are....

Katrink said...

Bravo, Jeremiah! I wish the city spent as much time and money on other parks in less glamorous neighborhoods. Take a walk along the length of Sara Roosevelt Park in Chinatown sometime. It has moments of beauty but is sadly run down. I guess it'll be neglected until the old Chinese folks get pushed out and the yunnies move in and "discover" it.

Ed said...

Katrink hits on something that is worth pointing out though its not been mentioned in the other comments.

The High Line is really, really expensive to maintain compared to most parks. It was a bad idea for that reason alone (I actually think the thing should have either been torn down, or rebuilt and used for rail again). And the only way to cover the increased maintenance costs was to have the surrounding area become a wealthy neighborhood, both so the neighbors could contribute to the upkeep and the city could recoup the costs in increased property taxes.

Incidentally, the main reason any of the city's parks were created historically was to raise property values in the surrounding area. The original 1811 plan for Manhattan did not envisage much parkland at all, but over time the city government noticed that property values surrounding the few public squares that were put into place were much higher than elsewhere. This eventually resulted in the creating of Central Park, which involved the removal of squatters in favela-type structures, and an African-American community near what is not the Museum of Natural History (there is a plaque there commemorating this. At least in this instance the people removed were given quite a bit of cash in compensation).

And that's OK. Its a good thing to have parks and a healthy city will have a mixture of high income and low income neighborhoods. The problem in the last ten years has been that the balance has shifted far too much in the direction of high income neighborhoods. People seem to believe that its desirable to have a solid wall high income neighborhoods stretching from Columbia University to Greenwood Cemetary in Brooklyn. But that kills off the city's cultural energy in a sort of mass sameness, plus small and new businesses can't afford to operate in that area.

Claribel said...

I don't find the High Line
inspiring. Now Green Bronx Machine, there is a group of New Yorkers who are absolutely inspiring and uplifting!

http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_ritz_a_teacher_growing_green_in_the_south_bronx.html

"Kids should not have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one.” (Stephen Ritz)

RWordplay said...

The High Line has much to commend it, as do the Multiplex, Shopping Malls and Disneyland. But what I find most offensive about the High Line is that it has always been a real estate gambit, in a City that's run by real estate interests, and so will benefit those who will develop property on all sides of the "park."

My complaint is also philosophical in nature. What the developers, their advocates and supporters achieved with the High Line is to turn an interesting, authentic exterior space, with all that suggests, into a tightly enclosed, heavily survielled, space. It might as well be enveloped in glass.

It is also not a public space as activities, movements, experience are tested, measured and controlled. In this sense, it is a consumer product—it ommoditizes time and space.

Yes, it offers fabulous views of the City, and, off hours, a fine place to walk, but it does not deserve to be celebrated any more than Mr. Meyer's Shake Shacks or Eataly or any of the City's latest attractions. These places are not, in themselves, bad, but they are antithetical to much of what once made New York, New York.

Am I guilty of the same kind of nostalgia endemic to citizens of this City since Peter Stuyvesant reputedly said upon the takeover of New York by the English, "There goes the neighborhood"? Yes, of course I am.

Still, it does not make me, or others who share my opinion, wrong in thinking that the High Line is less part of the fabric of New York City than of the emerging Generica.
(I'm certain its developers have plans for the same in Dubai, Shanghai and every ai in between.)

Shawn Chittle said...

Congrats on the article once again and for the side-spiltting humor on the responses you got from people!

Anonymous said...

Great op-ed.

The highline is uber-anal for sure. A bit too too for my tastes. At the same time it is cool, at least the lower part is. It's too crowded most times, so the challenge is to slip in on a bad weather day. For all it's gentrification I think that mobs of tourist can cut both ways... would I want to live there? No. Ban groups, charge admission. Set limits on crowd size? I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, I couldn't agree more with your criticisms about the high line, it does no good to have something pretty or innovative in your neighborhood that you never get to use because it's so over crowded with tourists, I did not realize before reading your blog how it's creation was tied to Bloomberg/Doctorof rezoning doctrine. I live in the LES actually am from here and feel misery many times a day not because I don't like new people but because clearly their arrival is so tied to our demise and they don't know or care or think it's a good thing. I'm terrified of the proposed low line and your writings have provided an articulation of my fears, (that I think I can use to try to push back but against people with unlimited resources it's hard,)thank you so much for this!

mikevandy@aol.com said...

I have been reading your blog with great interest. I appreciate your idealism and radical distaste for hyper-gentrificaiton. Naturally, you can come across as unyielding and unwilling to see the flip-side of the equation. But I am OK with that, actually. The complex nature of urban-planning and development does not make for easy answers… and in many cases the long history of corporate and government screwups doesn't allow for any reasonable decision. But amidst all that bullshit, the big-money interests never have to answer for their idealism (money) or their radical distaste for what came before (in the name of an unquestioned progress). Instead, they just steamroll the opposition with money and political clout. But then a guy like you speaks truth to this god-awful power, and you're pestered to justify every freakin' thing you say. So I'm not gonna do that.

Case in point, the Highline. I appreaciate that the highline REPRESENTS hyper-gentrification, even though it was conceived as a grass-roots effort with a different kind of spirit. But combined with the spirit of hyper-gentrification, it not only represents that social force, but also EMBODIES it. So your criticism of it makes sense.

This pains me to say, because as an artist and designer, I have found the Highline to be an ingenious piece of landscape architecture. Most of the times when I have walked it, I have had the dumb luck of it not being too crowded, and so the elegance and sophistication of it's minimalistic design can really be appreciated. However, just today I walked the length of it, and it was swamped with tourists, which was unpleasant, especially on the very narrow parts of it. Which makes me wonder why they designed parts of it to be so narrow. Oh yeah… so there could be more grass and shrubs!!!

I suppose the most obvious problem with the Highline as a public space and as embodiement of hyper-gentrification… is the question of "Why"… as in, why construct it at all? One could have simply left the elevated tracks alone, or torn them down, or "done something with them". Obviously, no easy answers. I suppose "doing something with it" makes sense enough, but when you turn a generally inaccessible elevated train-track into an urban ramble, then no matter how ingeniously conceived and executed, it will function only as a diversion for the locals or tourists… and the latter always drive out the former. And in a sense it MUST have tourists, for locals are not going to climb up flights of stairs just to walk amidst ingenious landscape architecture. This is a lesson going back to Jane Jacobs, that parks should function within the context of living, not as an urban planners goofy notion of utopian delight.

But throngs of tourists bringing beauty and genius to it's knees is nothing new, right? Go to the Greek and Roman Room at the Met, and witness the deadening effect of the mass of dopes taking selfies in front of Venus. Or go watch the Japanese tourists surround the sculptures in the Louvre, devouring it with their clicking cameras like a school of piranha. The public domain is a cruel mistress, and in a democratic society the people will reinterpret all meanings. Greek sculpture becomes facebook fodder, the Louvre and roller coaster ride, and the Highline (unfortunately) becomes a shopping mall with no stores (yet).

So yeah… to me… the Highline is a great thing in itself. But this is not enough for a public space, which always has a context. And when that context leads straight to absurdity, then we might ask why do it. And the answer is that people never learn, because greed or ego override all reason and moral responsibility. That and a million other things.


laura r. said...

"J" developers brought the highline, the HL brought more developers. one hand washes the other. as for the people from the projects: they are welcome to use the highline anytime. they can take walks during a normal weekday it may be empty. mothers can take strollers. (if these moms are poor im sure that wont offend you). it is democratic in that way. it is not too different than central park, i see all kinds of people in the park.