New York and urban stitching

by / tag , , ,

One of the most debated topics in the international dialogue regarding the transformation of our cities is the impact that large structures have on gentrification processes. For more than twenty years, the city of New York has been the scene of interventions, public or private, which with various outcomes have led to a radical transformation of vast areas of the five boroughs of the Big Apple.

The case that perhaps created the greatest echo on a media and social level, going beyond the boundaries of information purely dedicated to architecture and urban planning, concerns the conversion of the old High Line railway route in the Chelsea neighborhood, south-east of Manhattan.

The reconversion project of the High Line was born from the desire to preserve the structure by the citizens of the Meatpacking District, a former industrial area now the scene of important cultural structures such as the new Whitney Museum of American Art by Renzo Piano, previously destined for demolition. For this purpose, “Friends of The High Line” was founded in 1999. The association turned directly to the mayor Bloomberg, who, with a decision that would prove to be one of the greatest victories of his mandate, announced an international competition for the transformation of the former railway line.

The task will be taken on by the famous studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in association with James Corner Field Operations and Piet Oudolf for the landscape design operations. The High Line today presents itself as a linear park that aims to create diversified environments depending on the area and the season.

Although there are no mandatory routes, ideally the project begins with the Gansevoort Stair, which leads to a height of almost ten metres.

The first focal point you come across is the Tiffany&Co Foundation Overlook, from which you can enjoy the view of Piano’s museum. Continuing towards the Gansevoort Woodland, the visitor will enter one of the most picturesque micro-environments of the project, characterized by greenery with a high tolerance to the lack of light, which with its autumn foliage makes this spot particularly evocative in the months of September and October.

Between Little West 12th Street and 13th Street the zone called Washington Grasslands begins, the area with the largest section of the entire High Line: among herbaceous groups, green in the warm seasons and golden in autumn, the first signs of the pre-existing railroad tracks.

The High Line curves slightly at this point, arriving at the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck: perfect for observing the characteristic sunset over the river. At 15th Street you come across the first major landmark for the Chelsea neighborhood, the famous Chelsea Market, a modern food bazaar much loved by New Yorkers.

With Tenth Avenue Square we find ourselves faced with a curious example of urban theatre: the old beams composing the structure have been removed, in their place there is an amphitheater which frames the metropolitan spectacle of the cars whizzing by on the street below.

Then the urban landscape around the High Line, previously free on both sides, becomes denser, near the Chelsea Grasslands. Here, old brick production buildings mix with interventions by personalities such as Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Seldorf, Shigeru Ban, Audrey Matlock and Della Valle Bernheimer.

The Radial Bench begins at West 29th Street, a long, sinuous curve that leads towards the river. Along this inflection, installations and activities for the little ones often take place, like the “Collectivity Project” by the famous Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

This last stretch of the High Line is precisely dedicated to children, with play areas that lead to the Pershing Square Beams.

Every year the High Line hosts a number of visitors around four million: the greatest asset of this work, in addition to the attractiveness of the structures and the revitalizing function of the territory, consists in being an example of a bet won by an attentive municipality and listening to residents.

The prize was the creation of environments that, although recent, are already in the of New York’s collective imagination in the world.