COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

The High Line Goes Interstate: April Fools' 2014

Mar 31, 2014
Dec 14, 2017
april fools rendering headon
This rendering, by public interest design landscape architecture firm Design4Design Partners, illustrates the evocative potential of an Interstate High Line system.

With New York’s High Line heading towards the completion of its celebrated re-use of an abandoned elevated railroad, followers of parks and public space are wondering what’s next. Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond, who left the group at the end of 2013, has shared with us the fast evolving conceptual plans for the next phase of the park - a proposal to bring the High Line across the Hudson, and eventually across America.

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Weehawken, New Jersey, looking out at Manhattan from the first planned junction of the expanded High Line.

The idea is to bring the transformative power of the high-end raised landscape to where it is needed most. Looking directly out from the end of the High Line at Weehawken, New Jersey, Hammond spoke about the desire for other communities to replicate the High Line. “Many cities want their own High Line,” said Hammond,  “and now many will be able to get one.” What the Highline will do for Weehawken is projected to replicate as a “Weehawken Effect” in cities nationwide.

President Obama and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - self proclaimed “BFF’s of the High Line” - are set to announce plans to create an Interstate High Line System, replicating the benefits of New York’s elevated park across the nation.

Christie is poised to fully fund the first segment of the new park connecting Manhattan and Weehawken as a part of this arrangement. An early report that Hurricane Sandy funds were promised to be used for its construction was found to be false by his lawyer, Randy Mastro.

Although some see the move as a thinly veiled effort to make amends for the “Bridgegate” scandal, at PPS we believe Christie is trying to prove our maxim that “If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places you get people and places."

Apparently discussions between the Christie and the Obama administrations on the project began when the two worked closely on Sandy relief. The two may have struck a deal partially based on the Governor’s promise to defend the president from critics of the project. “President Obama asked Governor Christie to get out in front of anyone calling this thing the ‘Obamaline’,” claims a former White House staffer.

President Obama and Governor Christie, the Bipartisan champions of the Interstate Project.

Cities Contemplate Plans for Higher Ground

In addition to connecting existing or proposed elevated parks, some funds will be reserved for converting ground level public spaces to connect to the interstate system. “We’re really relieved to learn that the government can provide support for us to make the most important remaining improvement to our project,” said Indianapolis Cultural Trail Executive Director Kären Haley, “And that’s getting it thirty feet off the ground as soon as possible.”

Twitter  - Indy Trail copy

For cities with no existing abandoned railroad trestles to consider for the system, a donor program will facilitate the transfer of excess infrastructure from nearby cities. In special cases, the construction and rapid deterioration of elevated trackway will be coordinated to create necessary parkland for the project.

The Interstate High Line System is expected to help catalyze new "High Line Towns" that will both build and fund the project as it goes, surely leaving prosperity in its path.

By strategically linking elevated park projects nationwide, Americans could be strolling from sea to shining sea as soon as 2030. “It’s an intriguing idea,” said PPS Transportation guru Gary Toth. “But, given the mixed results we got from the Interstate Highway System, we’ll be watching this one with caution.”

Current plans for the Interstate High Line, with long-term extensions included.

Designers Plan to bring Landscape Architecture to the Landscape

Several prominent international architects have already begun work on proposals for segments of the park. “I see one single, delicate span reaching from Chicago to Denver without touching the ground,” said world-renowned designer Santiago Calatrava. “We are calling it ‘The Flyover.’ ”

While inspired by the High Line, the landscape design is actually completely original. As the designers explained, “Using parametric juxtaposed iterations, we designed a hive volume that was sustainably livable in a resilient environ of humanist proportionality challenging Postmodern heuristics.” It should once-and-for-all prove the value of good design.

This project will be a divergence from the car-oriented culture of Landscape Urbanism. “Robert Moses was wrong when he said ‘Cities are made for and by traffic’; cities are made for and by landscape”, commented Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Landscape Urbanism booster Charles Waldheim.

Landscape architects on the project, struggling to find vegetation native to the entire country, settled on dandelions, ornamental crabgrass, and thistle.

The view from the existing High Line in New York looking west.

From Interstate to International

The project is already attracting international attention, with a “Higher Line” planned in China by High Line landscape architecture firm Field Operations that will add benches and landscaping to the Great Wall. The “Highest Line” is in planning for Kuala Lumpur between their Petronas Twin Towers.

As a concession to protesters, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has proposed raising Gezi Park, and putting his mall underneath. The public's reaction is not clear as he has blocked the use of Twitter.

Plans are also in the works for a more audacious International High Line network. New York’s High Line was partially inspired by Promenade Plantee, a similar project completed in Paris in 1993, and apparently the dream of walking from one park to the other is not out of the question.

Based on Tesla motors founder Elon Musk’s proposed “Hyperloop” transportation system, Hammond referred to this transatlantic link as the “High-Speed High Line.” Park users would board city-block length capsules, complete with peel-up benches and native planting, at a Gansevoort Street terminal and be shuttled across the ocean at supersonic speeds while sampling cuisine from artisanal food purveyors of both Lower Manhattan and the 12th arrondissement.

“When Robert told me he wanted me to develop the High Line all the way to Paris, I thought he was talking about cultivating donors,” said fashion icon and longtime Friends of the High Line supporter Diane Von Furstenberg.

London has also expressed interest in connecting the International High Line to the proposed Norman Foster Bikeway.

The Skycycle could one day connect London to New York.

Despite Concerns, the Future is Looking Up

Concerns have been raised over the estimated completion date, considering the other public works projects that have failed to start, let alone finish on time. When asked for comments, the state of California responded that they “don’t foresee any delays”. Additionally, the Interstate High Line portion set for Los Angeles was already rejected because Thom Mayne said it would not work "urbanistically."

Colorado’s plans for their “Mile High Line” have received mixed reviews with some fearing  that its name will be mistaken for a Marijuana dispensary.

In New York, the De Blasio administration has been considering expanding the High Line into a network above the streets in order to meet its #VisionZero goals. Pedestrians would then be able to travel to the next without ever crossing a street, thereby doing away with accidents altogether. Planning director Carl Weisbrod posits that this will eliminate gentrification by keeping the gentry above, and off of, the streets they are gentrifying.

To further support affordability and equitable access to quality public spaces, newly constructed public housing projects will straddle the raised structure. This represents an innovative evolution of New York's public housing policy from towers in the park, to towers over the park.

Many urbanists have responded positively. “We are already planning the ultimate Jane’s Walk!” exclaimed one of them. Environmentalists, too, have lauded the design’s resiliency due to its position above sea level, and have suggested raising all of the East Coast’s public spaces ahead of the next super storm.

More plans are set to be released by Hammond at the 2014 Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Conference in Pittsburgh this September.

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Weisbrod’s vision for future of affordable housing - Towers Over the Park.

Happy April Fools' Day! We hope you enjoyed it. Here are some highlights from recent years:

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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space