Yesterday 5/15/11 The New York Times published in their Opinion section “Bringing The High Line Back To Earth” by Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Rybczynski feels compelled to warn us that the brilliant success of the High Line park on Manhattan’s West Side is probably not replicable elsewhere and not a viable model for urban parks. He warns us not to put our trust in urban design, which has “failed” us all too often.
The professor also deems the planting designed by Piet Oudolf “relentlessly hip.” As opposed to bedding out begonias? What exactly does that mean? The professor continually breaks down this magical experience into units, planning board units, yet this park was born out of a love of neglected places and nurtured (with private money) into something astonishing. Personal, historical layers such as these cannot be dissected and pinned to a planning layout. The very act of retaking a neglected place, that historical narrative alone, brings immense vitality to a neighborhood. If not an elevated railway, perhaps an abandoned military fort. Or, as in the case of my own neighborhood, an unused armory (first meeting tonight). The High Line is not an exact blueprint but a brilliant suggestion.
I visited what’s now known as Phase I of the High Line in autumn 2010, which was probably the major impetus for finally spending a few days in NYC rather than just a flyover. Phase II opens in June.
In attempting to persuade us that the High Line is a one-off phenomenon, applicable only to New York, there’s some circular logic at play here, as in his assertion that “In no other American city do residents rely so much on communal green space, rather than backyards, for relaxation.”
Perhaps the word “enjoy” should be substituted for “rely.” The great legacy of Olmstead’s Central Park has become grafted onto New York’s identity, and, like its iconic buildings and neighborhoods, is inseparable from its allure, just as Golden Gate Park is for San Francisco. Both parks are intrinsic to these popular cities’ livability and have become interwoven among the reasons why young people will always leave home to squeeze into tiny apartments with multiple roommates. These vast urban parks that course through cities, lapping up against multiple neighborhoods, soaking up a myriad of personal, unique experiences, are a far cry from suburban parks with their predesigned activity layouts — clearly marked areas for sports, picnics, playgrounds. Great parks, great cities.
The professor lists several cities contemplating elevated parks and advises against it. I say go for it.