Community Perspective: Letters from Supporters

High Line Supporters from the Portrait Project. Photos by Tom Kletecka

When you see the High Line on blogs and in the newspapers, you often read praise for the park’s innovative design, thought-provoking artworks, extraordinary views, family activities, and the many ways it has positively impacted New York City.

But like other New York City success stories, the High Line is not immune to criticism. Just last week, you may have seen a blogger’s opinion piece regrettably titled “Disney World on the Hudson” published in The New York Times.

In the days that followed the publication of the opinion piece, we were heartened to hear from many supporters, community leaders, and neighborhood residents who also took issue with the author’s opinion. Some supporters wrote letters to The New York Times; others published their opinions on their own blogs and social media.

Follow us after the jump for a sample of the letters and messages we received.

Earlier today, Friends of the High Line Co-Founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond sent an email to supporters with our own response.

Read Co-Founders’ email

If you are not currently receiving our email newsletter, sign up to get future updates, invites to events, and more.

"As principal of a middle and high school within walking distance from the High Line, I am grateful for the myriad ways in which my staff and students have benefitted from the park. Through free programs, student internships, and above all, being invited to actively participate in the park’s growth and development, the High Line helps us meet one of our most enduring goals: to belong to a local community which motivates us."

Brooke Jackson
Principal, NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies

"Blaming the High Line for the changes in Chelsea is misdirected and unfair. The park is a stunning re-use of an urban relic, and from the beginning they have aggressively sought to serve the community by providing jobs and activities for local residents.

The real issue is that one in six people in Chelsea still lives in poverty. Blaming wealthy people, or the smart ideas that attract them, is not the answer. Chelsea has remarkable economic diversity, and we must make sure that is sustained.

Two things need to happen: First, City government must maintain its commitment to assisting people and businesses that are struggling. Recently, the Bloomberg administration relied on the increased wealth in the neighborhood to cut day care and after school contracts for poor families. Voters need to tell the administration this is unacceptable.

Second, the inhabitants of the new residential and corporate towers need to invest in their local community, the way it is done in neighborhoods all over the country. They can do that by supporting the community programs and small businesses that keep the poor and middle class portions of the neighborhood strong.

The High Line did not 'make' Chelsea, and it won't 'break' it, either. The strength of the community relies on us."

Ken Jockers
Executive Director, Hudson Guild

"The High Line is world renown for community action and preservation. To irresponsibly assert as Mr. Moss has that its transformation, and the 2005 rezoning that helped transform it, have led to widespread displacement is not supportable. While the rezoning did seek to replace gas stations with new housing, most New Yorkers surely agree that housing and parks are better for our environment and our tax base than fossil fuel. Furthermore, none of the business owners were forced out as Mr. Moss casually asserts; each owner had the right to stay, but many chose to sell because the rezoning so increased the value of their land. Most importantly, there is no evidence of the massive residential displacement Mr. Moss implies but does not corroborate. To the contrary, as more rental buildings get built north of 23rd Street, thousands of new units are under construction with far more affordable housing than the condominiums that have been built to date. Shame on Mr. Moss for letting the facts get in the way of his self-concocted Mousecapade."

Vishaan Chakrabarti The writer led the rezoning effort as the director of NY City Planning’s Manhattan Office from 2002-2005, and is an emeritus board member of the Friends of the High Line. He is currently a professor at Columbia University and a practicing architect.

"I agree with some of Mr. Moss' points, but as a 30-year resident of Chelsea, I'm thankful to have this exquisite garden and community space steps from my front door.

I have nostalgia for '"old New York,' but I suspect change was inevitable regardless of the High Line. It's important to remember that the park preserves a decades old railway which would have otherwise been torn down. Thanks to neighborhood residents, this important piece of the city's heritage was not only saved, but enhanced for all to enjoy. Friends of the High Line has since concentrated its efforts on providing free events and community activities that bring in its closest neighbors.

I have been a longtime supporter of Friends of the High Line and a volunteer. I am extremely grateful to be close to a place that enriches my community. That tourists appreciate it as well is just fine with me."

Joan Garvin
West Village Resident, High Line Member, and Volunteer

"Disney World on the Hudson by Doom and Gloom Jeremiah Moss is so full of bitter invective and poisonous hyperbole regarding the extraordinary High Line in lower Chelsea that it deserves a response. Mr. Moss's diatribe is dripping with unsubstantiated descriptions such as 'tourist-clogged catwalk,' most rapid gentrification in the city's history, spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck, close to a panic attack, stuck into a pool of stagnant tourists, out-of-towners, trendy denizens, touristic hordes overcrowding [including] the streets around it, destroying neighborhoods, corporatized, whipping community support into a heady froth." Why such exaggerated bitter anger against the most beautiful, exciting, brilliantly conceived, original park since Olmsted and Vaux's Central Park?

I am one of his 'stagnant tourists' living four blocks away. I spend more time on the High Line than any other park in the city, including Hudson River Park stretching from Battery Park to 59th Street a block west of the High Line. One winter afternoon I passed two other elderly 'tourists' and heard one say to the other, 'Isn't this wonderful! We don't have to cross any streets,' one of the great achievements of Central Park's depressed roads. This park in the sky was developed with broad and enthusiastic participation by the adjacent community who submitted and judged over 400 designs for consideration by Friends of the High Line. It is always a peaceful pleasure to stroll through the perennial wild flower gardens, which Mr. Moss refers to as weeds, and always find a place to sit and relax in the sun or shade of trees with a refreshing drink and gaze over the Hudson River from 35 feet in the air. This has to be one of the most pleasurable experiences in the city, one which I am always proud and happy to share with our neighbors far and wide and with guests from abroad."

Barry Benepe
West Village Resident and High Line Member

"I am a resident of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, and I have been working at the High Line for three years. I know that the people at Friends of the High Line are all about giving back to the community. From my experience, working at the High Line is a great because the staff really care about what people think. The residents from the local area make just as much of a presence on the High Line as the tourists. That the High Line is a 'must see' explains why there are always tourists at the park. The High Line is really about representing the community and getting the residents involved. The people from the neighborhood like the High Line and what it stands for."

Juwan Stone
High Line Youth Corps

"Years before the last train rode the High Line tracks to deliver a load of frozen turkeys, Chelsea's gentrification was well underway, a process that's certainly been accelerating in recent years with definite winners and losers. But to say that the High Line doesn't serve the people who live in its shadow is patently wrong. All are welcome (thankfully without their dogs.) And if you don't like the crowds, come join me and my partner at 7:00 AM when you'll find friends and neighbors walking, jogging, and lounging on a blissfully empty linear garden, complete with crickets and mocking birds. For this long-time Chelsea resident, the High Line the best thing to happen here since the invention of the Oreo."

Eric Marcus
Chelsea Resident and High Line Member

"Jeremiah Moss’s recent piece on the High Line seems accurate when it comes to changes in the basic fabric of New York City. As the director of a 40-year-old nonprofit arts organization in Chelsea, The Kitchen, I am all too aware of how the city’s expensive character has made it increasingly difficult not only for cultural producers to live here but also for the communities that once gave rise to and sustained innovative culture here to exist at all. And yet to lay so much of that shift at the feet of the High Line is hyperbolic at best. As a neighbor of the High Line, I can say that new audiences, both New Yorkers and visitors, are visiting our institution more often as a result of the park's existence. And the park gives rise to a contemplative sphere rarely found anywhere in the city, offering some distance on the very frenetic urban developments Moss rightly deplores."

Tim Griffin
Executive Director and Chief Curator, The Kitchen

"Blaming the High Line for the loss of our city’s middle class misses the point, like blaming the medicine for the cough. This daring piece of urban planning—once a fringe fantasy—is very much what we wished for. We should dare to dream for more High Lines throughout New York City."

Paul Soulellis
Chelsea Resident and High Line Supporter

Read full response on Paul’s blog

"There are two type of people in the world, those who see the world as half empty and those who see it as half full. The author behind Vanishing New York is clearly lodged in the half empty category. After reading through the piece recently penned about the High Line, I can only agree with the title – the High Line is a 'Disney World on the Hudson.' It is a place where people from near and far want to visit because it makes people happy. The High Line is an ever changing oasis in Manhattan."

I live a ‘stones throw’ from the High Line and go out of my way on a daily basis to spend more time at the park. Sometimes alone, other times with the wife and kids to the many free activities organized by Friends of the High Line. I will admit that the crowds keep me away between 3:00 and 5:00 PM on weekends, but I guess that is part of the price of success. To walk above the city, among the plants, and the smiling faces – there is something about being up there that causes people to enjoy life and smile.

The High Line's success brings developers to the neighborhood in much the way that Central Park brought developers uptown. It’s an attractor, a place where people want to be. Unlike a work of art, cities cannot stay the same. Cities are living organisms, the choice is one of downward spiral (New York City circa 1970s) or excelsior (New York City circa 2000s). The new investment in and around Chelsea brings more people, more jobs, more tax revenue, and more excitement to the neighborhood.

Pardon me if I'm too blunt (I am a New Yorker), but if you don't like the vitality that an upwardly mobile ever changing city provides, there are plenty of sleeper locations scattered across the world where you might feel more comfortable. And please don't tell Jeremiah about the Whitney Museum planned for the southern terminus of the line. For some reason I don't think he will like it."

Gary Roth
Chelsea Resident and High Line Volunteer

"I empathize with Jeremiah Moss. I’m a curmudgeon, too. When Chelsea Piers opened, I was glad to have access to the Hudson, but grumbled ice hockey and golf were suburbanizing Chelsea. As Chelsea’s few pioneer galleries became hundreds and boutiques moved in with them, I complained my neighborhood would end up like SoHo. When plans to save the elevated railway seemed to have a chance, I cheered at the prospect of getting a park in my neighborhood and got involved. Like Mr. Moss, I was excited when it opened, but my delight is undiminished.

Sure, the High Line has been wildly successful, so we can’t expect to be alone there (although it is very quiet in the mornings). It is a horticulturally rich place where wildflowers are not tamed, but cultivated. Visitors, who stop to comment or ask about the plants while I am volunteering there, appreciate they are not weeds.

Chelsea has been changing for decades and development might have been much less to Mr. Moss’ liking had that derelict railway been torn down. The High Line has preserved part of our past and has given us a unique and important park that is the envy of cities around the world."

Patricia Jonas
West Chelsea Resident, High Line Member, and High Line Volunteer

"To say that the High Line is destroying the neighborhood is simply false. As a long-time member of the arts community in West Chelsea, Printed Matter has seen the positive impacts the High Line has had on the neighborhood it dissects. The park has brought many more visitors – both New Yorkers and tourists alike – to the art organizations, galleries, and other local businesses. Friends of the High Line works closely with our organization and the many others in our neighborhood to bring contemporary art into the public realm within a unique park setting."

James Jenkin
Executive Director, Printed Matter

"I am 19 years old and I have been a resident of Chelsea for 13 years. Since the High Line opened, I have seen nothing but a positive outlook. Tenth Avenue is now more welcoming and inviting, people from all over New York are coming out to visit. The High Line being nothing but a tourist attraction is not true; it is a place for all people and is an oasis to forget about everyday life and worries."

Kylah Bruno
Graduate of the High Line Youth Corps and Current Part-Time Staff Member at Friends of the High Line

"'Disney World on the Hudson' paints a narrow portrait of the High Line’s impact on the Chelsea community. While Chelsea has become aggressively affluent over the years, let us not blindly point our finger at the beautiful park whose creative urban personality offers long-time Chelsea residents like myself a refuge amidst the big city energy.

It is important to recognize and accept that neighborhoods evolve organically. The High Line was founded as a grassroots movement in the Chelsea neighborhood and continues to be true to form with a vested interested in the future of its neighbors, in maintaining open dialogue with through tenants associations, community board meetings and tabling on-site. Its recent High Line Teen Picks program, a movie series curated by local teens, was also in direct response to a survey initiative where the public requested similar programming for teens. The High Line has unyieldingly supported Chelsea residents since inception."

Ana Nicole Rodriguez
Chelsea Resident and High Line Volunteer

"Jeremiah Moss may not be entirely wrong by thinking that the High Line is gentrifying that part of our city. But he is very wrong about the park's visitors, which makes one wonder about the basis for his predictions for the future.

As a 13-year resident of the West Village, with the Gansevoort Street end of the High Line less than a 10-minute walk from my lobby, I can assure him that many neighborhood residents, and small independent business owners, enjoy and embrace the High Line, and not only for whatever it adds to property values.

Many people thought turning the High Line into a park wouldn't happen, and wouldn't work. Three years in, the novelty hasn't worn off yet, but 10 years from now we'll wonder how anyone could have had doubts."

Tom Morris
West Village Resident, High Line Member, and Volunteer

"I have lived in West Chelsea since the 1990's, and I have volunteered with Friends of the Hgh Line for nearly ten years. The push to turn the High Line into a public park came from the people who live and work in our community. Now that the park is open, the High Line is a neighborhood treasure.

I regularly volunteer at the High Line, as a greeter and also for our family programs, which are an important part of our community outreach. In addition, I visit the park every morning to get in my morning jog, not to mention my sunset visits to the High Line for my refreshing evening sweets.

To say that the park is a 'tourist-clogged catwalk' is misinformed. Yes, it gets crowded on the weekends, but crowds are part of our daily lives in New York City, and tourism helps our local businesses."

Maria Padavano
Chelsea Resident and High Line Volunteer

"Making an eyesore into something lovely and open to all (at no charge) is a good thing. I live in the neighborhood and I welcome the park. My husband and I walk on it often and have not been trampled on. I confess to be less enamored of private cars in Manhattan then some. Public transportation is more environmentally sound."

Fran Smyth
Arts & Business Council of New York

"As a 16-year resident of the West Village, I was surprised to read Jeremiah Moss' claim that the High Line is 'destroying neighborhoods as it grows.'

The High Line is an incredible resource for my family and many others in our neighborhood. I visit frequently with my daughters to take in the landscape and views, to enjoy a snack from the food vendors, or to attend one of the many family activities organized by Friends of the High Line.

Sometimes the park can be congested, but crowds are a small price to pay for this treasure. If the park had not been built, if the High Line had been torn down, I imagine it would have been replaced with residential towers similar to those in other parts of the City, where there is limited public space.

My suggestion to Mr. Moss: visit the High Line in the morning, when the park is serene, and it is anything but a 'tourist-clogged catwalk.'"

Beverly Israely
West Village Resident, High Line Member, and Volunteer

"As a lifelong New Yorker (and Chelsea resident) I share grief and anger over lost neighborhoods, but Jeremiah Moss’ tirade fails to consider two important facts.

First, change defines New York City. In 1856, Harper’s Monthly lamented: 'New York is never the same for a dozen years together. A man born forty years ago finds nothing of the [city] he knew.'

Second, the High Line is a testament to the neighborhoods it dissects. More than a decade ago, a broad community of New Yorkers saved it from demolition and transformed it into a public park. Today the High Line is an inspiring public space, free and open to all, celebrated by its community, and sustained by the very same New Yorkers who founded the movement to save it.

Once, Chelsea was home to lumberyards and oyster merchants. Did those who built auto repair shops on this land lament their passing?"

Annik LaFarge
Chelsea Resident and High Line Member

Read full response on Annik’s blog

Recent Posts
Plant of the Week: Sea Lavender
view post
Open Encounter: A Conversation with Brendan Fernandes
view post