There’s no wonder every city wants a High Line

It’s New York as three-dimensional Sant’Elia drawing, and it’s unforgettable.That’s only what preceded the High Line. Postdating it are a dozen bespoke towers, hotels and galleries, ranging in quality from Gehry’s clumsy InterActiveCorp to the swish Niemeyer-esque Standard Hotel. Only now it’s the result of a grass roots preservation campaign.However fine as architecture – and it is very fine – that may be the High Line’s lesson. Manhattan’s history of profit following infrastructure has come full circle: the death of New York as an industrial city turned into glorious spectacle, and the apotheosis of New York as the ultimate city of speculative development. No wonder every city wants one. Visiting the original, whose third and final phase opened just a few weeks ago, makes it obvious that not even the aggressively sentimental talents of Thomas Heatherwick could produce anything of remotely comparable quality. It can be deeply subtle, as with Piet Oudolf’s unsentimental planting: stark grasses rather than the bumptious oaks favoured by Heatherwick; but the route it takes is a metropolitan thrill ride, going past the sleek Modernist warehouse of the Starrett-LeHigh Building, the insanely monumental London Terrace apartments, the smart towers of the Penn South social housing scheme, sailing across the roofs of tenements until it comes to the rail yards at the back of Penn Station. Its architecture, a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is elegant, surprising and marvellously public, at least until you find the long list of things you can’t do there (listen to amplified music, organise a protest). In New York, that ‘arc’ is a disused railway viaduct turned park. They’re rammed alongside or even on to the High Line just as skyscrapers were rammed into the grid. Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment. Like early skyscrapers, they use facades as camouflage, albeit non-orthogonal geometries rather than Baroque trimmings. The High Line, while totally different in its conception and history, is infrastructure with a similar effect.The High Line is elegant, suprising, and marvellously publicThis interwar goods line was saved from demolition by a grass roots campaign, and it is managed now by the Friends of the High Line. New York’s elegant and subtle High Line is a machine for generating property speculation, says Owen Hatherley
Criticism of the ill-considered proposal for a Garden Bridge across the Thames is sometimes answered with the riposte ‘but what about the High Line?’ The transformation of a freight line in Manhattan into a public park has become a paradigm for a new form of urban-rural infrastructure, with cities everywhere hunting out their own versions.

Updated: 08.12.2014 — 18:17