Major Issues for District 3

Chelsea: The Greening of the High Line

March 10, 2004

By Andrea Lynn

In the seven decades since it was built, the High Line, which is now an elevated railroad to nowhere, has seen life as an escape route over "Death Avenue," as an eye-sore, and finally -- as a potential paradise.

The concrete and steel railroad tracks snake through some 1.5 miles of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District along the Hudson River. Unused, barely noticed, covered with wildflowers and grass, the High Line could soon become a unique seven-acre park.

The High Line came into existence during an era when trains formed the backbone of the city's manufacturing economy. As many as 50 freight trains a day traveled along the west side of Manhattan, creating a hazard for pedestrians, which earned Tenth Avenue the nickname of Death Avenue. To reduce this traffic, and increase efficiency, the railroad companies, with support from both state and city, created an elevated railroad from 34th Street to Spring Street.

The railroad lost its appeal with the rise of the interstate trucking industry. In 1980, it carried its final train. filled with frozen turkeys. By the 1990s, only a short portion of the elevated tracks - the part now dubbed the High Line - remained.

That is when the Chelsea Property Owners Association first started lobbying for its destruction. The association's members own property either directly below or straddling the tracks. They argue that the deteriorating structure poses a danger to community residents, threatens the 22 buildings that sit beneath it, decreases neighborhood property values and stifles development of the surrounding area.

The Giuliani administration heeded the concerns and began to take steps to demolish the structure. But before the first track could be removed, a new group formed, calling itself Friends of the High Line, and went to court stop the demolition.

Friends of the High Line and its allies say residents of the area desperately need recreational space. The High Line offers "open space and a unique structure, even for New York, that if removed can never be replaced," says Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the Highline.

Park advocates deny that the structure poses a threat to the community. In 2002, the group hired Stephen DeSimone, a structural engineer, who reported that the High Line remains fundamentally sound. Tearing down the structure, the friends say, could cost as much as $25 million, will take 18 months and be noisy, dirty and disruptive. In its suit, the group claimed that city procedures require that the City Council, borough president and area community boards review such a plan and that no such review had been conducted. The court agreed and halted destruction of the High Line.

In January, the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division reversed the lower court. But while that court ruling allows demolition, it does not require it. And so, it is somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory for the property owners, since the Bloomberg administration strongly supports keeping the High Line.

In fact, it has already received a permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin developing plans to turn the deserted structure into a public park. The Bloomberg administration and Friends of the High Line envision the transformation of the High Line, the width of two trains, into a recreational promenade similar to the Promenade Plantee in Paris, a walkway on a restored elevated rail viaduct. Fragrant gardens line the three-mile track in France, while boutiques and cafes occupy the arches beneath the rail bed.

But the supporters of the High Line want to make it uniquely New York, and to that end, last year, they held a competition. Among the 720 entries from 36 countries, was a plan for a heavily landscaped walk, another for an aerial monorail floating above a meadow of wildflower and a third for a mile-long series of swimming pools.

The proposals did not have to be realistic, Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line and a member of the jury, told Architecture Week. "They were required to be thought provoking, and they were - and as exciting and unexpected as the High Line itself," he said. Friends of the High Line hopes to send all the ideas to design teams.

The city and Friends of the High Line have started the process to select a designer for the High Line and hope to have made their choice by sometime this summer.

Hammond has estimated it could cost as much as $60 million to restore the ailing concrete deck slab and turn it into seven acres of parkland. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has pledged his support for the High Line project by committing $15.75 million in city funds over the next three years. Federal funding and private donations would make up most of the remainder.


Related Story:

New York is building new parks and restoring old ones -- at a time of budget cutbacks and staff reductions. Anne Schwartz reports on how this has been possible.

Bye Bye to Car Alarms?

July 25, 2003

Pols Weigh Car-Alarm Ban New York Post By Frankie Edozien There was a lot of noise on June 11 at City Hall over a bill to end the most annoying sound in New York - the constant whine of car alarms. A hearing on banning the pesky alarms elicited a chorus of supporters at a City Council hearing, but got no backing from the Bloomberg administration. Roiled by constituents complaining about late-night alarm attacks, Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (D-Manhattan) is pushing legislation to prohibit any installations of audible car alarms except by the manufacturer. Aaron Naparstek, a project coordinator at Transportation Alternatives, told the council's Committee on Environmental Protection that noisy alarms are a public health menace. "[This] type of noise ... is linked to costly public health problems, lost productivity, decreased property value, and diminished quality-of-life," he charged. The NYPD is opposing the proposed ban on alarms.

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Chelsea: The Greening of the High Line
(Mar 10, 2004)

Bye Bye to Car Alarms?
(Jul 25, 2003)