Ruins? Or urban parks?

On Monday’s class, our guest speaker Alan Sonfist mentioned the High Line Park as a special example for urban redesign. The design was inspired by what the architects who deem the “High Line’s melancholic, unruly beauty, in which nature has reclaimed a once vital piece of urban infrastructure.” It was interesting to look the history of the park due to it was used to be a rail line for about a century. With new tracks building underground and rerouting, a part of the rail line on 10th avenue was demolished at 1990s. Then it became into rundown quickly in the next few years. It seems like the High Line is a great example of urban redesign. Indeed, the construction of the park won a great number of awards in the field. However, this example also reminds me of the midterm project by Holly, Anastasia and Brandon of ruins. With the urbanizations, we have more ruins and hulks than before. Is it a hundred percent good thing to redesign the ruins into a city park?

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High Line Park on 25th Street. photo by Zhi Yang

Personally say, I love the idea of using an abandoned rail track to construct an urban park instead of residential building. We can see how much important for a city having public parks through Central Parks and many other cases. According to the statics from NYC government, the green coverage ratio of New York City is 21%, less than San Francisco (30%), Houston (40%), and many other cities on west coast. The climate is one of the crucial reasons for the vegetation. Moreover, urban design is also a major factor that we can control it better. Who will dislike a residential community with flowers and trees? I believe that one of the reasons people considers Singapore is a comfortable place to live, because it is a city in a huge garden. Similarly, the climate and vegetation conditions of Hong Kong are close to Singapore.

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Street view from Singapore. photo by Zhi Yang.

The question is more plants means high prices. Regions with high vegetation coverage rates are usually 15% – 20% more expensive than other regions. That is easy to be confirmed by the rates of Chelsea district, which is close to the High Line. Not every stakeholder agrees with the urban park plan.

“Urban parks almost always increase nearby residential property prices in surrounding areas (provided, of course, that the public space of the park is regulated and patrolled to keep the riff-raff and the drug dealers out). The newly created High Line in New York City has had a tremendous impact on nearby residential property values, thus denying access to affordable housing in the area for most of the citizens of New York City by virtue of rapidly rising rents. The creation of this kind of public space radically diminishes rather than enhances the potentiality of commoning for all but the very rich.” — David Harvey

Thinking about whose interests are served by the High Line, the neighborhood came to my mind as first answer. However, after reading Jeremiah Moss’s viewpoint in Disney World on the Hudson I realized I was wrong. Tourists are the groups most benefit. “According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers.” Obviously, tourists love high line, me too. The park, which snake though more than twenty blocks not only provides a great viewing platform on Hudson River, but is also a beautiful sitting area for those shoppers who need to take a rest. I have been there for many times and found that the people who love to go to the park are usually not the citizen live in the Chelsea. Like Moss said in his article, I became to understand the harassment and anxiety of residents nearby for they living in such an area with higher residential properties and a noisy park than they expected.

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High Line Supporters. Photos by Tom Kleteck

“It’s this overcrowding — not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it — that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.” That is to say in addition to tourist, the biggest beneficiary is the business environment in Chelsea and meatpacking district. 3.7 million is not a small figure even it is in 2014. And that is the reason why people use Time Square to compared with High Line. For merchant, this model of the park has big advantages. More people mean more turnovers. Maybe to Stella McCartney and Brownfeld Auto, the establishment of the park is not necessary a good deal. But in my point of view, Stella McCartney has a more stable sales group in Soho. At the same time, there is more brand shop of new designer and promising galleries come to the area. It means those designers and art dealers went to the circle of Chelsea and consumers have more options. It could be a win-win for High Line.