(Written May 2007)
As a recent article in the New York Times by Charles V. Bagli, “Biggest Building Site in Manhattan Up for Auction” (published May 17, 2007) made clear, it’s been put up for debate whether preservation and use of the High Line should be continued through the Hudson Yards site that is being put out for bid. There is also the question of whether and how much affordable housing might be made part of the developer site.
There are various assertions about what preservation of this section of the High Line may cost. For instance, the article reports that developers assert requirements for the High Line park OR affordable housing will increase their costs by $100 million, reducing the price they will pay for the Yards. One developer, Mr Durst, reportedly offered the estimate that the High Line preservation at the site itself would cost $100 million. Friends of the High Line have offered an estimate that preservation of the High Line in the Hudson Yards area will cost only $0.8 million, an extremely different amount. A better idea of the actual prospective cost may come from the bids themselves if, as discussed, it happens that respective bidding developers submit alternate bids, one predicated upon High Line preservation, the other not.
I think the question of whether this section of the High Line should also be preserved is a no- brainer. Of course the full High Line should be preserved.
1. A significant part of the High Line’s overall impressiveness is its total length. Shortening the High Line at its northen end will be a loss for the entire High Line. It will affect the language of every major tourist guide to the City forever onward.
2. The High Line is a unique opportunity being realized to create quiet public park space. The High Line is an exception to a current trend where significant amounts of our newly created City park space are subject to a great deal of highway noise.- Conversely, most of the High Line, because of its elevation and mid-block locations and distance from major roadways, will by and large provide a quiet experience. Anything that adds to the overall High Line experience will augment this rebalancing of the equation even though most of this northern portion of the High Line will not, itself, be one of the very quiet parts of the overall quiet park.
3. The High Line is creating obvious value to the City as demonstrated by the way in which developers are excitedly and quickly flocking to develop adjacent to it. I read reporting that a study commissioned by Friends of the High Line and conducted by the consulting firm Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler estimated the High Line would add 7% to the value of residential development at the Hudson Yards. That means hundreds of million dollars extra to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the seller) and to the City in tax revenues if the High Line is preserved in this area.
4. This is one example of a situation where the benefit of a one-time opportunity must be measured not in immediate terms but in terms of something that, like other great parks that have been created, will shape the City a hundred or more years into the future.
5. This particular terminating portion of the High Line offers the most dramatic and closest elevated view of the Hudson River of the entire High Line and links it with another major linear park, the Hudson River Park. If anything, opportunities should be reviewed for how to optimize this hook-up.
6. The High Line’s presence in this northern area provides sorely needed amelioration of some of the flaws of the Javits Center which is likely to remain at that site. It will afford the Javits Center with an immediately adjacent connection and humanizing relationship to the rest of the City through a high-profile public amenity and social experience. It will serve to help integrate the Javits Center with the rest of the City and help deal with the way in which the Javits Center is currently an austere place, which upon exiting you immediately seek to flee. There is also perhaps some opportunity in that the westerly side of the Javits Center has elevated areas that could integrate with the elevations of the High Line. Taking the opportunity that is present, Javits visitors could exit the Center and immediately begin a leisurely stroll through some of the most interesting experiences and neighborhoods available in New York. If the opportunities are destroyed, then out-of-city visitors at the Center will be handed maps of the City and told that if they exit the Center and navigate some unfamiliar streets they can eventually hook up with this interesting experience. So more often than not they may never do it. What a waste that would be.
7. If the High Line is destroyed in this Hudson Yards area it will always be famous for what WASN’T done. In operatic terms for those of us who are fans of opera, it will be as famous as the end of Turandot, where virtually every opera aficionado knows that Puccini died in the middle of writing it so that the first time that Turandot was performed, Toscanini, as conductor, stopped, set down his baton before reaching the end of the opera, turned to the audience and said, “Here is where the master laid down his pen.” Likewise, if the High Line isn’t completed through to its end, people will stroll a truncated mile upon it and get to a point, turn to each other and say, “Here is where the High Line used to continue, could have continued, and doesn’t now.” It would be dreadful if this became a disappointing part of every tour guide’s repertoire offered to all the tourists they address to take home to their respective home country.