Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The High Line Sucks

   New York's High Line. The elevated rail way once connected to the now buried Riverside tracks which delivered machinery and product from all of New York State to the many long shuttered industries running along Manhattan's Tenth ave.
    The Park. It's on top of everybody's top ten list. It's the game changer. The one that made it- made it past the bureaucracies-past the real estate hyenas, past the railroads, past the forces of entropy preserve and beautify 30 blocks of suspended industrial park land and utterly transform the West Side. Chelsea was on its way already- the High Line just made it make partner, made it a made man.
   And it's shite.
   The High Line is not a park. It's a stage for conspicuous consumption. It's where everyone goes to show that they know where to look, they've read the blogs, shopped at the stores, dined at the market. It's a strip of sidewalk where you have no choices. You either keep walking or you sit and perform. Perform sitting, perform being a person who wanted to take a break, act out your lunch or moment of inspiration. You are always in frame. 
   It's the apogee - I hope- of this generation's inability to do anything alone, without broadcasting it, annotating it, tweeting, blogging or sharing it. It's the physical manifestation of that mania. It's the grand platform for those sad hordes who instead of sitting in their homes and writing, studying, or working, have to go out and cordon off a corner of the local cafe and show that they're at work.
    A real park demands the random. By definition it needs to include the idea of the "wild", the undesignated.  IE you should be able to wander off, sit where next to no one sits, double back and take another path, decide to turn what nobody else would call a perch into a perch and perch there and do your thing. It's a retreat from the gaze, not toward it. It doesn't require an audience and it allows people to redefine its space. A park has a physical democracy of access and of usage.
   The High Line is like Foucault's panopticon. The prison where in any space one can stand one is seen by the guard tower. There's no escape in the High Line. It's for people, for a generation that doesn't want one. It's for people who can't imagine committing to an activity that isn't observed, remarked upon, graded and reviewed.
  In other words it's for a people who no longer believe that some things have no value. Or that there's value in doing things that are not being evaluated, that won't add up to a grade or a post, or a poem or a like.
  I remember when the line was just that, a chopped off piece of elevated railway suspended above the city. You could clamber up to parts of it. People who'd had lofts in Chelsea for years abutting it would have impromptu parties or meanders drinks in hand among the tall wheat and loose ballast. It was something you knew you were right to break the law for, it was something you thought ....what if.....? And I think in the same way that you might by some astonishing chance - and the High Line is that, it is astonishing when it lifts you into the air above the great city of New York and lets you sneak around- but in the same way that you might run into a wolf in Yellowstone and think what if I could HAVE that creature and put her in a perfect endless yard or what if I could clean up that dangerous path to Machu Picchu so it was available to everyone......these are things better left imagined. They die when brought to the surface.
   We didn't preserve the High Line when we rebuilt it and redesigned it with boutique architects and gave it a closing hour and signs that might as well say "You can't sit here it's too well designed". We ended it. It's not a piece of industrial history anymore it's a museum piece. It's not a park it's a runway. It's a commodity. The commodification of the stroll. 
  The wreckage of industry should always make us remember the reasons why the wreck happened. No Steel Mill shuttered for 30 years, shut down on the hopes and lives of a generation of people should come back as the shell for a Hard Rock or as a Mall. There's some smiling vapid violence in that. Some kind of brutal disdain in what people call "development". The High Line to me is the high end version of this ignorance.

1 comment:

  1. The Highline is political, but the design wasn't, or didn't care to be. The area around the high line was re-zoned for luxury development in 2005. It's another example of high-design being used to support high-end real estate.

    But still, I like to stroll on the high line. I think it functions like a beach boardwalk, but without an ocean or surfers to stare at I'm looking on to the balconies of the Standard, or seeing that LVMH now owns this block I'm walking above. I am the voyeur more than the viewed. Why would the people in the slick loft want to look at me? West Chelsea is now the kind of neighborhood that will easily make you self conscious. Look good because looking good might make you feel like a native while strolling down this promenade. But aren't all of those feelings typical in Manhattan - especially Bloomberg Manhattan? It is all unattainable. The park is public, but it doesn't feel like a place for everyone.

    Just as government is to break business monopolies and promote diversity in the economy, it needs to promote urban developmental diversity as well. Homogeneity will break a healthy economy or a healthy city. That said, I feel the same as a lot of people who dream about having seen the place in the year 2000. The park would have a character, a history, and beautiful contrast if they could let people walk through it untouched, graffiti, invasive species, uneven walkways and all.