In Shoreditch, east London, the idea of building a new park on top of the old railway arches at the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, abandoned since the mid 1960s, is being considered.
Chicago is proposing to redevelop 2.7 miles (4.3 km) of disused elevated railway line into the Bloomingdale Trail. Its fellow US city Philadelphia is looking at transforming the Reading Viaduct into an elevated linear park. And in Rotterdam, Netherlands, another old elevated track is being considered as a site for a park and shops. The High Line itself echoes Paris’ Promenade Plantee, inaugurated in 1993…
James Corner, the British landscape architect who designed the High Line, is working on the transformation of London’s Olympic South Plaza into part of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Corner is also working on a proposal to redevelop Liverpool’s 1980s Everton Park.
A competition to design London’s answer to the High Line has just been won by a project to grow mushrooms in unused mail tunnels under Oxford Street. It’s unlikely to be built, but it was this kind of radical thinking that made the High Line a hit.
This is not uncommon: cities often look to other cities to see what has worked. New ideas can be risky, particularly ones that require a large outlay of money (the article says New York’s High Line cost $112 million but will add about $900 million in tax revenue over 20 years). Therefore, if this can work in New York and other cities would not only like to have similar success (not only creating an exciting public space but also one whose benefits spread to nearby locations) but also want to “catch up” with one of the world’s leading cities, undertaking similar projects can be attractive.
However, I wonder about two related factors that might be necessary to remember when learning from the High Line:
1. Just because this worked in New York City doesn’t necessarily mean that it can work elsewhere. Different cities have different conditions and contingencies. Simply replicating the project may work – and it may not.
2. These new projects need to be representative of the city they are in, not simply an imported item from New York City. In other words, they have to have some or a lot of local flavor and influence. Otherwise, the High Lines become another commodified space like shopping malls and generic tourist markets.
I’m guessing these other big cities are aware of these issues but this makes it a much more difficult process as leaders and residents think through how similar physical spaces might turn out to be very different places when constructed in different cities.