Thursday, August 30, 2012
Over the past few years, the High Line has received a great deal of positive attention as an innovative and inspirational addition to 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.
We agree with some of the facts the author presents: the High Line’s popularity means that the pathways sometimes get crowded, and the project has catalyzed economic growth along Manhattan’s West Side. However, we take issue with the writer’s claim that the High Line does not – and was never intended to – benefit “regular New Yorkers.” This sentiment is both inaccurate and an unfortunate simplification of our city’s past and its current reality. In the days that followed the publication of this opinion piece, we were heartened to hear from many supporters, community leaders, and neighborhood residents, some of whom also wrote to the Times editors in response to the piece.
Below are excerpts from a few of these letters:
“I have nostalgia for ‘old New York,’ but I suspect change was inevitable regardless of the High Line... 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, High Line Volunteer
“As the director of a 40-year-old nonprofit arts organization in Chelsea, 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 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.”
Tim Griffin, Executive Director, The Kitchen
“The park is a stunning re-use of an urban relic, and from the beginning [Friends of the High Line has] 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… 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
“My staff and students have benefitted from the park. Through free programs, student internships, and above all, being invited to actively participate in the High Line’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
“I am a resident of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses... The residents from the local area make just as much presence on the High Line as the tourists... The people from the neighborhood like the High Line and what it stands for.”
Juwan Stone, High Line Youth Corps
“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... It 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 Supporter
“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 Supporter
“As a 13-year resident of the West Village... 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
“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 our letter and more letters from supporters.
We are both long-time residents of this community, and our top goal is to enhance the lives of our neighbors and fellow New Yorkers who worked collectively to make the High Line possible. These are a few of the ways Friends of the High Line works to achieve this goal:
• Every year Friends of the High Line offers more than 350 free or low-cost public programs designed for locals of all ages: family arts activities, scavenger hunts, walking tours, public talks, art performances, movie nights curated by local teens, live salsa music and dancing, and much more.
• We lead more than 100 interactive field trips for local students, many of whom come from the three public schools nearest the High Line.
• We employ local teens for our High Line Youth Corps, a program that builds skills, confidence, and stewardship by connecting teens with staff at all levels of our organization.
• We work with more than 100 volunteers, many of whom live in the neighborhoods along the High Line.
• The 5,000 residents living in the nearby public housing complexes make up the largest group of our immediate neighbors. We recently completed an important community engagement survey to better understand their needs and strengthen our relationship with them. To further our work, we have hired a dedicated staff member responsible for building and sustaining relationships and opportunities for our neighbors in the public housing complexes and other underserved communities.
• We have open lines of communication with our local community boards, block associations, and other neighborhood organizations to keep them informed of our projects and initiatives, to address questions and concerns as they arise.
• We partner with innovative New York-based food vendors to offer locally-sourced food offerings on the High Line during the warmer months of the year. We hear from neighbors that they are frequently coming back to the park again and again to enjoy a snack or share a meal.
• We have an innovative public art program which curates works that respond to the unique qualities of the High Line and its neighborhood. Our ever-changing art program means there is always something new and surprising for visitors to come and see.
The High Line stands today thanks to a broad community of New Yorkers who rallied together to transform it from a derelict elevated railway into an extraordinary public space, free and open to all. More than a decade ago, we founded Friends of the High Line with the goal of creating a great community amenity and an extraordinary public space. Our goal remains the same today.
We extend our deepest thanks and gratitude for all that you do for the High Line.