By any measure, the High Line park that snakes above the streets of Chelsea on a former elevated train track should be considered a smash success. It draws 8 million visitors a year – more than any other tourist destination in the city. It has attracted glossy condo towers that have pushed parkside real estate values into the stratosphere. (Two more condo projects flanking the park between West 18th Street and West 19th Street were announced in December.) And it will generate an estimated $1 billion in tax revenues for the city over the next 20 years.
Despite all this, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond tells The Atlantic’s CityLab, “We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighborhood. Ultimately we failed.”
The failure is three-fold, and it’s a barometer of what’s wrong with New York City today. First, most of the people who visit the park are from out of town, and they’re “overwhelmingly white,” though one-third of the residents of Chelsea are people of color, according to a City University of New York study. Second, the condo apartments along the park are out of reach of all but the wealthiest New Yorkers, including the residents of nearby housing projects, who rarely visit the park. Miguel Acevedo, director of the Fulton House Tenants Association, says, “Our residents don’t feel it’s a park that is available to them.” And third, the people living in the multimillion-dollar condos that flank the park complain that they’re tired of having throngs of tourists peering through their windows. Maybe they should buy curtains. Or move to a higher floor.
“The fact is,” the CityLab article concludes, “the High Line has become a symbol of the ‘new’ New York, a city of profound inequality. Neighborhood income disparities are among the city’s most extreme.”
It turns out that nothing fails quite like runaway success.
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