REDEVELOPMENT CAN REVIVE A LANDSCAPE, BUT THERE ARE IMPORTANT PITFALLS TO CONSIDER TOO
BY Zoe Phoon
The High Line in New York City in the US is a 1.45-mile long public park built on a disused historical freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Opened in 2009, it’s NYC’s only elevated park and one of the top New York attractions.
These rail-to-trail public spaces are also emerging elsewhere in the world, such as Dutch studio MVRDV recently converted a former 1970s overpass in Seoul, South Korea, into a 1km plant-covered walkway above the traffic.
Meanwhile, the High Line has become a victim of its own success, and its creators which are also the organisation behind it recently launched a website to advise on avoiding gentrification.
The online forum, called the High Line Network, offers advice for those embarking on similar infrastructure reuse projects, according to architecture and design magazine Dezeen.
Set up by Robert Hammond who co-founded the High Line in 1999 with Joshua David, the High Line Network is to ensure that other projects adapting disused infrastructure into public spaces are successful in creating all-inclusive public environments.
Hammond wants to help others avoid the gentrification and inequality that occurred in the High Line’s surrounding Chelsea neighbourhood as a result.
A member of the public had described the High Line in 2012 as “a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in New York’s history”.
Hammond said a lot of the reason the city governments want gentrification is because it’s going to increase value.
But he wants the cities to understand the other issues, not just the economic impacts but the social impacts as well.
He said while the issues of these projects used to be about funding and design, people are now realising that the most critical point in these projects is social equity around the people’s neighbourhoods.
Some backgrounder: The High Line reclaimed a section of a disused elevated railway line along the Lower West Side of Manhattan. After its first section opened in 2009, it became hugely popular and a crowded tourist spot.
The project also spurred luxury developments in Chelsea, which caused rents to rise and local businesses to struggle, and locals were pushed out in favour of those who could afford to live there and tourists.
To amend this, the organisation behind the High Line started to include job training and school trips into the park’s public programme.
But Hammond said these measures failed somewhat and he hopes the next crop of rail-to-trail projects will be successful economically and socially.
The High Line Network currently brings together 19 projects in North America that include a New York City’s Lowline underground park and the Los Angeles River Revitalisation project.
Hammond said lessons are already being learnt in the planning of these schemes and their community engagement.
For instance, Washington DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park will hold job training workshops so those in a nearby low employment area can gain work from the project.