November 14 2011

What the High Line Means for America’s Urban Parks

As mentioned earlier on this blog, the success of New York’s High Line and recent extension has brought in more attention, investment, and tourists to Manhattan’s Chelsea and Meatpacking neighborhoods. And while New York enjoys the fruits of its labor, other cities across North America are looking to achieve similar results through comparable projects. Using the High Line’s model as precedent, cities are taking stock of their abandoned or neglected infrastructure and incorporating it into the design of their newest parks and existing urban landscape.

Atlanta Beltline

In Atlanta, work is underway to convert most of a 22-mile ring of abandoned rail lines circling the city into a multi-use trail, park, and transit corridor. Appropriately named the BeltLine, the corridor hopes to bring new life into Atlanta’s suburbs by providing important public transit connections between edge cities and surrounding suburban communities, as well as provide area residents better access to recreation and public art. Moreover, the BeltLine’s development model closely resembles that of the High Line’s, with a grassroots-based public private partnership built upon both community engagement and implementing high design for the masses. And while the project won’t be fully realized for at least another decade, sections of the ambitious project are now beginning to open to the public.

Bloomingdale Trail

Image courtesy of massito, Flickr

Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail, which is planned to be even longer than the High Line, hopes to become a nearly 3-mile long park that will give residents just north of the Chicago Loop access to urban parks while re-using an abandoned freight rail corridor. Much of the planning process behind the park has been in the form of charettes and public meetings, making sure that residents will be able to voice their opinion and that the park adequately serves their needs. And while the idea has lingered in Chicago since the 1990s, residents can thank the High Line for being the catalyst that has helped give this project much of the recent support to move forward.

Other cities such as Philadelphia and Vancouver have casually floated High Line-type ideas but have yet to develop formal, solid plans. In Philadelphia, there is talk of converting the Reading Viaduct in the city’s Loft District into a “linear version of Rittenhouse Square,” while in Vancouver, local activists near the city’s Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts have been considering converting the auto-centric overpasses into parks.  Even in New York there is now talk of creating a competing “Low Line,” using the city’s unused subway infrastructure in the Lower East Side to create a unique park experience.

With all of these new ideas for parks and urban reuse, it’s clear that the High Line has challenged the way planners design, create, and think about public parks and recreational spaces.   As Eric Jaffe of The Atlantic writes, part of what makes the High Line successful is “New York’s density [which] adds an element of adventure,” and without density, many of these proposed parks may not find as much long-term success.   Still, each city is unique, and there are other challenges that planners must face other than density and scale.

Do you think that other cities can build their own High Line-style parks?   What are some other great new urban parks that cities are planning?

Barrett Lane

Barrett Lane is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania where he is pursuing a Master of City Planning with a concentration in Urban Design. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University. Prior to joining The Grid, Barrett was the Director of Creative Content at Yipit, and most recently interned with the New York City Department of City Planning. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 14th, 2011 at 8:46 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, History/Preservation, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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