Economic Development

Lows of the High Line: When Green Space Threatens to Become Unpopular

Every now and again, we at the Land Use Litigator step away from the legal and venture into the anecdotal.  Today’s story comes to us from New York City, a place of much land use and even more drama.

The “High Line” is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan.  The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side, between 10th & 11th Avenues, running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by a non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

The High Line is, in other words, the re-purposing of private industrial space into public green space.  Sounds great, (lowercase “d”) democratic, and very Generation Y, right? 

Well, according to this Op-Ed from the New York Times, the park may not be having the monolithically positive impact it is (allegedly) intended to have.  Consider the following excerpt from the Times piece:

“But the problem isn’t just the crowds. It’s that the park, which will eventually snake through more than 20 blocks, is destroying neighborhoods as it grows. And it’s doing so by design. While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor — albeit a well-heeled one — it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side. As socialites and celebrities championed the designer park during its early planning stages, whipping community support into a heady froth, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development in 2005.  The neighborhood has since been completely remade. Old buildings fell and mountain ranges of glassy towers with names like High Line 519 and HL23 started to swell — along with prices….  Between 2003 and 2011, property values near the park increased 103 percent.  This is good news for the elite economy but not for many who have lived and worked in the area for decades. It’s easy to forget that until very recently, even with the proliferation of art galleries near the West Side Highway, West Chelsea was a mix of working-class residents and light-industrial businesses.  But the High Line is washing all that away.”

It’s easy to wade in and become swept away by the enthusiasm for municipal green space.  Just because it’s easy, though doesn’t make it wrong.  That said, it’s interesting to have the opportunity — as we do in NYC — to look down the road at these decisions and see just how unpopular the popular can become. 

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate and Land Use Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Categories: Economic Development

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