Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Editorial in The NY Times About The High Line and What Makes A Great Public Park

The buzz about New York's new High Line Park is promting a large number of cities to think about new copycat projects. Mostly, this is awesome--but most seem to lack an understanding of what makes this space so amazing.

A great public space doesn't create a city- by definition-an urban park is not about just a well designed park--or about a well designed city, but about the sensitive interaction between the two.

"And herein lies the problem. The High Line may be a landscaping project, but a good part of its success is due to its architectural setting, which, like the 12th Arrondissement, is crowded with interesting old and new buildings. The park courses through the meatpacking district and Chelsea, heavily populated, high-energy residential neighborhoods. Very few American cities — and Manhattan is the densest urban area in the country — can offer the same combination of history and density.

In other words, while the High Line’s success may seem to be an instance of “build it and they will come,” in New York, as in Paris, “they” are already there — living in the surrounding neighborhoods, working in the close-packed office buildings, touristing.

Moreover, while the High Line may have become a fashionable distraction for out-of-town visitors, it succeeds because it offers a green outlet to its many neighbors, who, like Parisians, live in small apartments. In no other American city do residents rely so much on communal green space, rather than backyards, for relaxation."

What's so great about the High Line is that it doesn't require new construction--or parking or the tear down of any existing buildings or block a working street grid, yet allows New Yorkers to experience the area in a new way. It adds but doesn't subtract. But this synergistic relationship can't just be brought into existence anywhere.

For example, the promenade isn't just a great park, actively used when a game or major event is happening. It's also not just active when area offices are open or just in the evenings and weekends--when residents and tourists use it. It lives and changes through the day because it's located in a place with many different land uses--in a city well served by public transit.

I will be back with more thoughts about this.

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