The Highline is a prominent example of how ever changing New York City is. This old run down rail line was transformed into a beautiful tourist attraction, which still sparks much debate to this day. When the High Line was being made there was an uproar about what to do with it. Many different groups were interested in taking over the old rail line, but others wanted to destroy it for new construction to be made, and some wanted to renovate it. Josh David and Robert Hammond initially got involved when both went to a community board meeting and discussed renovating the High Line into something for society. Today, there is discourse about parks like the High Line being used to excuse the gentrification of other areas. Some people have claimed that the High Line is a good example of neoliberalism but that is not true; David and Hammond made the High Line to show the true art of New York architecture and create a monument for people to praise for generations.
Before the High Line became what it is today, the area was surrounded by sex, drugs, and gays. It was a safe haven for gays because it was a cheap area, and no one really paid attention to what was over there, which David noted when he first moved into the area. David became interested in the area after doing some research around the High Line and realizing that the area was 22 blocks of untouched above ground rail lines. Hammond became interested in the High Line after reading about it in a piece from The New York Times, and was flabbergasted that “this industrial relic had lasted so long and was about to be torn down” (David 2011). They were both interested in getting people up on the High Line and give them a new view of New York City.
Now the question is, were David and Hammond neoliberal urbanists that did not care about those that might be hurt by the renovation of the High Line, or were they unaware of the possibility of gentrifying the neighborhood and just wanted to make something beautiful?
I believe that David and Hammond did not want to gentrify the area and push out those who were already in the neighborhood, but rather wanted to share the new world that the High Line offered. “It was shock to see how beautiful it was….seeing [The High Line] for the first time made us realize how important it was to show it to other people” (David 2011). They genuinely seemed as if they just wanted to make use of this area for anyone in the city, without thinking about the repercussions. Both of these gay men most likely did not mean to take away this area for young gays to hang out, and instead intended for it to be a new place for them to hang out, not recognizing that young gays use safe havens away from other people so that they may come into their person quietly and in their own time.
Nowadays, the area is still a primarily gay area, with many bars and residents located there, but the young gays who used this area as a refuge are no longer located here. According to Erik Piepenburg, the area was heavily gay back then and is still to this day, but fails to acknowledge that the area is for wealthier, older LGBTQ members now, while it used to be an area for those who were still coming into their skin. The area “gentrified” in the way that the rich pushed out the financially unstable younger generation that made use of the area. But I do not believe that David and Hammond intended to destroy what had originally grown there, but rather did not think about it thoroughly and instead got much too invested in what they were doing. While this is not an excuse and younger gays have moved to new, cheaper area’s, and the area along the High Line remains a heavily gay area, I do not believe that David and Hammond were neoliberal urbanists because they originally intended for the area to stay a place for everyone. The area may have undergone neoliberal urbanism, with it’s pricey “exotic” elite food stands and security guards, but when reading how David and Hammond recounted the development of The High Line, it seemed to me that this is not exactly what they had envisioned when they thought of The High Line.
Loughran K (2014) Parks for profit: The High Line, growth machines, and uneven development of urban public spaces. City & Community (pp 49-64). Northwestern Univeristy
David J and Hammond R (2011) High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky. New York: FSG Originals
Piepenburg E (2012) The New York Times Under the High Line, a gay past. 13 April