It’s the 10th anniversary of the High Line Park. Shouldn’t we all be jumping for joy? Yes, we should, but not everybody’s on board. On Planet Woke — the alternative looney-verse where everything’s racist, oppressive and all-around evil — the High Line is Public Park Enemy No. 1.
In the real world, the magnificent folly dreamed up by visionaries Robert Hammond and Joshua David and built by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s City Hall is a joyous experience for nature and landscape-lovers, railroad aficionados and urban romantics of every stripe. It catalyzed $20 billion in nearby development that’s transformed the drugs- and prostitution-infested Far West Side into one of the country’s most desirable neighborhoods.
But the High Line — which is finally complete with the June 5 opening of its Spur segment at West 30th Street — has become that favorite punching bag of urban critics: a “missed opportunity,” as Queens College political-science Professor Alex Reichl, among others, has put it. He started out liking the park but later found it “an exclusive space” and “lacking in diversity.”
See, it’s elitist and discriminatory. How’s that? Not many residents of nearby NYCHA projects go there. Apparently, the park’s 10 easily accessed entrance points and free admission to all amount to a plot to keep them out.
The bilious backlash flowed in part from Mayor de Blasio’s longtime refusal to set foot in the park, a snub that The New York Times accurately laid on his aversion to what he called “an almost colonial dynamic” between gentrifying Manhattan and the other boroughs. The Atlantic magazine’s online journal CityLab claimed that “people of color” dislike rules prohibiting such activities as “throwing objects.” (Who’s talking racist here?) Even park co-creator Hammond rued last year that the High Line “didn’t do enough for the community.”
As for the real-estate boom it spawned — New York magazine’s Justin Davidson condemned the “scrum of construction,” “mediocre” buildings” and “ an aesthetic of self-absorbed [architects’] preening” astride an “elevated cattle chute for tourists.”
But only a reality-nullifying, “1984” Orwellian mindset — “how do we know that two and two make four?” — should complain over a public amenity that’s almost too good to be true.
The High Line is not only beautiful and heart-stirring, it’s blessedly civilized as few other Big Apple public spaces are. Thank gently-enforced, common-sense rules for a park that’s barely as wide as a subway car’s length and with a 30-foot drop at either side: no bicycles, skateboards, animals, product-hawking (except by permit) or alcohol-drinking.
So what if tourists love it? So do I and all of my lifelong-New Yorker friends who go there all the time. It ain’t Times Square, folks.
The High Line Park is a model of urban-renewal sensitivity. No buildings were demolished to create it. It required no evictions of human beings — unlike Central Park, for which 1,600 African- and Irish-Americans got the boot in the 1800s. It cost us virtually nothing. Of its $243 million development cost, only $112 million came from public funds.
What “missed opportunity?”
For a relative pittance, we gained a uniquely atmospheric strolling ground 30 feet above the street — a train ride-on-foot astride early 20th-century tracks through two centuries of architectural strata.
We view overlapping historic eras from amidst the most exquisite landscaping that ever graced a 100-year-old railroad bridge. I never know where to look first: at the Empire State Building, or at a funky little sculpture tucked in amidst the American sweetgum and Allegheny serviceberry plants.
Yes, something is lost since the debut of the park’s first phase in 2009. Construction scaffolding turns portions of the route into tunnels. As Davidson noted, architects’ ego trips — such as Bjarke Ingels’ “Twists” towers at West 17th Street — butt into once-open vistas.
The old trestle’s “melancholy and solitude,” which chief park designer James Corner sought to preserve, long ago dissolved under the weight of 8,000,000 annual visitors. Their numbers will swell even more as Hudson Yards visitors discover they can walk directly between the complex’s public plaza and the High Line without first descending to the street and then climbing stairs.
But such legitimate, nonpolitical criticisms are quibbles weighed against the park’s manifest magnificence.
Anyone annoyed by the crowds and engulfment by new buildings need only turn west at 30th Street, where Hudson Yards towers at first seem to mark the end of the line.
The park’s third phase, opened in 2014, draws us toward the Hudson River in a sweeping curve around the sunken rail yard. The crowds there are sparse. Views, which will remain unobstructed at least for years, go on forever.
Let the High Line haters yell all they want about “missed opportunity.” For the rest of us, this grand altar to our evolving cityscape is an opportunity not to be missed.
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