This post is part of our inaugural Park Week Series: Long Beach is for Park Lovers. This week, we will be celebrating parks and open space in the city and beyond. To see all posts for this series, click here.
Photos by Baktaash Sorkhabi. To view them all, scroll through the gallery above.
The High Line in New York is unlike any other park that came before it.
Inviting users to celebrate a new kind of urban ecology and reimagine their relationship with nature and the built environment as they meander 1.45 miles across this linear park elevated 25 feet above the streets of the city.
For decades, however, the elevated railroad track that is the unique foundation for this park stood fallow; a decaying infrastructure relic from a bygone era when above-ground railways carrying freight roared around the industrial West Side of Manhattan.
The extensive network of freeways built by the 1980s shifted the demand from freight to trucking for commercial shipping. By the 1990s, most New Yorkers saw The High Line as nothing more than blight getting in the way of redevelopment in the West Side, and Chelsea was becoming a prominent art gallery following the gentrification in nearby SoHo. And just before leaving office, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed an order for the demolition of the High Line. The former mayor’s focus was seeing urban redevelopment through tourism, and the High Line to him was urban blight and a physical barrier for the area’s real estate potential. (Ironically, that repurposed piece of blight would eventually become one of the most visited attractions in the city.)
Despite all odds, a non-profit group called Friends of The High Line slowly gained momentum and community buy-in towards the idea of saving and repurposing The High Line. Having a high-profile advocate like fashion industry icon Diane Von Furstenberg early on board as an advocate doesn’t hurt, either.
By 2004, enough public and private interest was in favor of transformation over demolition, and the sitting Mayor at the time, Michael Bloomberg, committed $50M toward the development of the High Line Park. The first phase opened in 2009, with subsequent expansions in 2011 and 2014.
The High Line was designed by landscape architect James Corner and architecture firm Diller Scofido+Renfro. Check out Santa Monica’s Tongva Park landscape and DTLA’s Broad Museum’s architecture for local examples of their work, respectively. Aesthetics are very important and apparent in every detail; from an entire custom design vernacular for the park furnishings so everything from the benches to the trash bins fit into the design story.
One of the interesting things about the High Line is that the line between public and private space is very thin. You have this linear public park that passes under and through private buildings.
The art for the space is also a mix of public installations and programing and collaborations with private buildings and institutions. Two major museums-The Whitney and The Diaz-in addition to performance spaces like The Kitchen make the High Line a cultural anchor and tourist draw for the city.
This massive popularity has the attention of cities across the county, with similar projects being proposed for their decaying infrastructure. Here in Long Beach, there is a discussion to repurpose the Shoemaker Bridge into a High-line style park when it is replaced by a new bridge that will be built beside it.
But not all residents are benefiting from all this growth in their neighborhood.
Real estate values rose as fast as those park gates opened in 2009, and within a few years, the elevated park became a symbol for neighborhood gentrification, having many question how these types of parks are embedding social injustice into our cities.