Planning for All Aspects of a Project
We have all heard about it: the cool, hip, green, tourist attraction in New York City: the High Line. The 1.45 mile long linear park transformed from a rail line attracts 300,000 visitors per year, more visitors than any other location in NYC. This attractive park has over 400 free public programs and more than 30 public art projects per year. The amenities of the High Line are incredible and diverse featuring views of the Hudson River, skyscrapers, parts of the rail line, artwork, access to food carts and more than 350 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, vines, and trees. In addition to all this, the High Line will also generate around $1 billion in tax revenues for the city over 20 years.
By all accounts this seems like a home run, slam dunk, touchdown for a park which runs through many parts of the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, and in these ways it is. But there are some unintended consequences which have the designers and surrounding residents rethinking the High Line and how it could have been made better for those already living in the neighborhood.
“During the High Line’s planning stages, Hammond and David set up offices inside a local community agency in order to make themselves accessible to public housing tenants, and solicit their opinions on design. But the questions they asked at their “input meetings” were essentially binary: Blue paint, or green paint? Stairs on the left or the right? They rarely got to the heart of what really mattered.” City Lab
The High Line was intended to be a park for the neighborhood—no one could have anticipated the enormous draw it was going to have for tourists. But in being such a well-designed, innovative, accessible and interesting space to explore, an excellent placemaking endeavor in general, it has created concerns for the residents, especially those in public housing projects, two of which are at either end of the High Line. Additionally “1/3 of the residents of the Chelsea neighborhood are people of color” (City Lab). But these demographics are not representative of the visitors to the High Line—they are more often white and more often tourists. By this account, the High Line seems to not completely have achieved its original purpose.“But that’s just it: in hindsight, it might be obvious, but few could have anticipated the High Line’s downright gravitational pull on tourists and developers.” City Lab
So how can designers prepare for this? Is it possible to plan for every aspect of a project and what might happen in multiple different scenarios?
“Instead of asking what the design should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’” says Hammond. “Because people have bigger problems than design.” City Lab
So what is the High Line doing now to correct these oversights? The Friends of the High Line is the non-profit organization which is continually working to improve the High Line in a variety of ways and to raise money to pay for these improvements and programming. They have launched several initiatives including job-training programs for teens, education for kids, and working specifically with the public housing projects to develop programming specifically for their residents—one in particular called ¡ARRIBA!, summer Latin dance parties, are very popular. They do realize there are some things which could have been done at the beginning which are impossible to go back and correct, especially advocating for public housing.
“If you care about the places you’re working in, then you have to be talking about this,” he says. “Because in a growing economy, if you’re building a greenway trail or a transit station or improving a school, it will drive up land values.” City Lab
Other similar projects in Washington D.C., L.A. and Atlanta, are learning from these unintended consequences in NYC’s project, but will almost certainly have unintended consequences in their own projects.
In the end, that might be the best anyone can do—set out with a good idea, consult the public, build the project. But to not leave it there—don’t walk away and think it’s done. Continue to assess the project, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and change what needs to be changed. The world is evolving, humans are evolving, jobs and housing preferences are evolving, shouldn’t the public amenities which go along with them?
Read the full story on the High Line and public housing here.
Main Photo Source: A Walk Around Some of Manhattan’s Different Neighborhoods