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.