Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Urban Excursions explores New York's Highline

The Highline – New York

With the Federal Budget released this month and the various interest groups still picking their way through the detail *yawn*, Josh takes a detour to New York and guides us down The High Line; an urban reproject that has had economic benefits that nobody budgeted for.

Nowhere in New York is ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ more apparent than the Meatpacking District where fashion, industry, nightlife and culture collide to epitomise New York style. Steeped in history the Meatpacking District as its name suggests was once a hub for trade and included hundreds of slaughterhouses and meatworks which sent and received product via a raised railway now known as ‘The High Line’.

Land on New York’s Manhattan Island is rare and expensive attracting development and investment from the biggest and boldest in the industry. It is of no surprise then, that the area occupied by some 3km of disused and dilapidated railway line dissecting one of its most recognisable areas was under pressure from developers to be torn down, a sentiment shared by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over a decade ago. Come my visit in 2013, The Highline was far from being removed and touted by outgoing Mayor Bloomberg as an ‘economic dynamo’.

So what changed?

Following the end of the High Line’s life as a rail track in the 1980’s, community and activist pressure saved a significant proportion of the structure from being demolished and subsequently formed a group, ‘Friends of the High Line’ which initiated planning and design for the raised track to become a public open space in the essence of Paris’s Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway). With construction on the third and final stage of the project underway when I arrived at the High Line via the 30th St entrance, it was already possible to recognise the economic activity which had been spurred by the some 4 million visitors per annum that it was attracting.
New apartment buildings were rising alongside historic meatworks and public housing, restaurants and artisans were squeezing into shop-fronts nearest the High Line entrances and mobile vendors patrolled the green course with the typical New York vigour. Some $2 billion worth of new investment has been attributed to the rejuvenation of the High Line, not including the $450 million Whitney Museum of Modern Art.

Residential real estate prices have also jumped (which is no surprise given how close trains used to come to the back of these apartments). On average, home prices in the Chelsea/Meatpacking District are around $1,600 per square foot, or over $1 million for a modest 60m2 apartment.

So, High Lines, Promenade Plantées, coulée vertes and green spines as tools for economic development? Apparently it’s a thing and the High Line has been attributed with inspiring numerous copy cats around the globe. Even Sydney has got in on the act, planning for ‘The Goods Line’ which will link Railway Square through Ultimo to Darling Harbour.

What economic potential could Brisbane’s mooted ‘Green Spine’ deliver? Maybe Brisbane’s BaT Tunnel (overlooked in Budget funding) will one day be more attractive as ‘The Low Line’?

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