The High Line: A Project for the Community And How it Failed the Community of Chelsea  

When I walked the length of the mammoth West Chelsea architectural structure known as the High Line, I witnessed one of the many art forms it contributes to the public: the art of interpretive dance. One section of the elevated road was filled with slow bodies twisting and turning in a way that told a story, albeit one I did not understand. A few yards further down, there was a wall full of paintings and designs of local artists, and right across the way was an overpriced frozen yogurt cart. It was a conglomeration of art forms open to the public. But the further I walked down this road, the more I saw the effect of gentrification, an effect that is often subtle and may remain hidden for years, but not in Chelsea. In Chelsea, there was a stark contrast between the elaborate art galleries and expensive condos to the dilapidated and worn-down brick buildings. The odd juxtaposition of wealthy and destitute was evident before my eyes. It was almost as if the area was intentionally built in unequal sections. West Chelsea was very simply gentrified, and much of that had to do with the High Line: the catalyst for all this unwelcome change.

In my previous article, I mentioned how many of the poorer residents of Chelsea believed that the High Line failed in accomplishing its mission: to serve the surrounding neighborhood, a neighborhood that has become demographically divided in the wake of its construction. Not just that but Robert Hammond himself, the co-founder of the High Line, claims, in a recent interview, he and his partner have “ultimately failed.” Hammond went on to say that being part of the neighborhood, he wanted to create a place meant for the use of his neighbors, but has found that not be the case. The majority of foot-traffic in the High Line in any given year is made primarily by tourists and not locals. The High Line is sandwiched between two public housing projects and more than one third of Chelsea’s residents are people of color. However, according to a recent study done by CUNY, visitors to the High Line were “overwhelmingly white,” to a degree that does not coincide with the demographics of the surrounding area.

Moreover, the High Line boasts that it is a public park open to all but the more affluent stores and galleries built in its vicinity tell a different story. It is a story that does not fill the narrative of the poorer of the neighborhood’s members; it is a story that has no place in their lives. In a 2012 survey done by the Friends of the High Line organization, 800 local residents were interviewed and asked to voice their opinions and concerns regarding the park. It was found that most of the residents claimed they rarely visited the park or partook in its event, and many felt it did not adequately reflect the diverse and ethnic populations of their neighborhood. These residents have become seamlessly ostracized in their own community, a community that changed around them so rapidly that there was no chance to catch up. This is all goes to show that while the High Line may have begun as a project for the neighborhood, it quickly became a force of gentrification that brought about immense change. Change that has made Chelsea unrecognizable, especially to those that call it, or used to call it, home.

Today the High Line is a place full of foot-traffic.