By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
What does it take to build ‘a park in the sky?’ Apparently, going by the example of the High Line in New York City, a lot of improvisation. At first, civic-minded city residents Robert Hammond and Joshua David were certainly not intending to devote the next decade of their lives to rescuing the abandoned railway tracks when they went to a community meeting about the structure in 1999, nor did either one have any background in urban design. They simply realized that no one else was going to step up to the challenge, and then stuck with it. Their success might even be because of a lack of vision—from start to finish they were constantly turning to their community and to experts for the next step.
It seems strange now that a mile and a half of railway tracks running mid-air through Manhattan would remain hidden from the public for two decades. After all, many interested parties would love to demolish the structure in favor of real estate developments. Yet economically, the High Line has actually proven itself to be quite profitable for the local community, and the fact that it attracts locals and tourists alike is itself a feat. Perhaps most importantly, the unique park space has become a priceless neighborhood icon for the western side of the Chelsea district.
Parks in general have been shown to bring a host of benefits to their communities. However, the High Line is unique among New York City’s (already sporadic) green spaces because, according to Robert Hammond, it doesn’t try to take you away from the city. It gives you the experience of one’s urban surroundings, and yet a little bit of wilderness at the same time. Part of the reason for the High Line’s success is that it gives spectators a view of the Big Apple like no other, where they are elevated from street view but hovering just beneath the skyscrapers.
This week BreakThru News was joined by Hammond, co-founder of the High Line and former Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, to talk about the park’s remarkable journey, and the broader theme of transforming one’s urban surroundings for the community. With the High Line’s success, other transformational projects are underway (for example, the East Side’s Lowline park). Ultimately, however, Robert is emphatic: you can’t ‘repeat’ the High Line, you have to create something unique and true to its own surroundings.
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell
Script Supervisor – Matthew DeMello
Research – Lisa Autz
with guest – Robert Hammond