New York City

Did we ruin the High Line?

Who ruined the High Line…?


Did we ruin the High Line? The answer’s different for tourists, real estate developers and anyone who actually once loved this mess.

By David Stone

My love for the High Line started early in my New York years.

It’s 1990, and driving down 9th Avenue, I see this elevated railroad crossing every street all the way to 14th. What’s really striking, it branches off into upstairs floors in buildings along the way.

Built to ease dangers along 10th “Death” Avenue, the elevated West Side Line served for only 20 years, beginning in 1933.

And there it sat, a large historic treasure collecting weeds, trash and rust, 40 years after it was abandoned.

In the early 2000s, I got a closer look when sales calls sent me deep into Chelsea, where Martha Stewart relocated. I thought it was an economy move like the many art galleries nearby.

Weedy New Buildings ruin High Line Park
Even at distance, the misfit of weedy, intrusive architecture is evident.

But maybe it hinted at the area’s feature as a real estate cash cow.

High Line Park Takes Shape

Fending off Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to kill it, a devoted group of admirers with a vision saved the High Line. That vision first became real in 2009.

Taking advantage of the High Line’s location, above the street, through blocks left much as they were in the mid-20th Century, planners landscaped a trail.

That trail led through history, keeping a refreshing distance apart form urban congestion and noise.

Hard to believe, this is the High Line in 2009, ten years before its ruin.
Wild flowers then caught plenty of sun.

But danger already lurked as ugly, inappropriate buildings began blocking views — and sun.

Architecture only a mother — or profiteering real estate developer — could love intrudes in 2009.

Related: Ten Ways To See New York

A rare, genuine urban trail without traffic hazards, the early High Line Park was a leisurely stroll through the far West Side. 20th and even 19th Century buildings remained.

Gradually, they ruined the High Line…

Views into Midtown made that district stand out as it must have, a goal for folks mired in Hell’s Kitchen.

But there was distinctly New York fun too.

Along the High Line before it was ruined.

You could exit for lunch at inexpensive restaurants along 10th Avenue.

New, inspired architecture had its place, without crowding the skyline, without a “Look ma, no hands!” showoff appeal.
High Line Park observation stairs over 10th Avenue.
Along the High Line, Chelsea played urban theatre.

Even though we returned for walks along the High Line over the years, the abrupt outburst of ugly buildings still surprised.

Gradually, they ruined the High Line, changing it from a detached urban trail into an artificial canyon flanked by up close, intrusive structures detracting from the landscape.

Ugly buildings.

It’s like they’re inventing ugly on the fly, just for the High Line.

A traumatic social decline followed.

Walking the High Line now, often clogged with tourists, you’re likely to be passed by millennials in a hurry. Their conversations are gossipy. Do they even know where they are?

And who cares what your “I’m like…” pseudo personality did during the latest workplace drama? Why force it on the rest of us?

And why do businessmen pick the High Line for deconstructing the latest deal?

A ruined High Line is not New York…

The most disconcerting fact about the old railroad today is its un-New York character. Well, not quite. It is the New York of real estate developers. Profit supersedes community, and an awkward urban esthetic forces itself.

A new building springs up along the High Line.
What is this thing, really? Proof that anything gets approved, these days? Linger a little. How does this match up with its neighbors? Is there anything attractive about it?
A building ill-suited for Chelsea ruins the High Line with a suburban office park feel while killing the sunlight and the view.

Conclusion

The High Line’s gone, and it ain’t coming back. Greed scars a once promising venue where we saw and felt the city differently. Now, it’s a canyon, a pedestrian shortcut between the Whitney and Hudson Yards.

No need to wait for stop signs. The real estate developers didn’t.

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