Robert Hammond, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the High Line (FHL), the organization that funds and maintains the High Line in Manhattan, recently expressed doubts about whether the park has fulfilled its original purpose. “We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighborhood,” said Hammond in an interview with City Lab. “Ultimately, we failed.” The article points to issues of equity and inclusivity in public space as the cause for concern.
The success of the High Line has far outpaced the FHL’s original estimates of 300,000 visitors a year; the linear park attracted 7.6 million visitors in 2015 alone. However, in an FHL report of the same year, the data shows that only 458,000 were from the “High Line area” and on average 45% of the visitors were nonwhite. While the report notes these numbers are much better than previous years, the question of whether the High Line has produced equitable urban space is still up for debate. Increases in real estate values due to development in the neighborhoods that touch the High Line are estimated to generate almost $1 billion dollars in tax revenues over the next 20 years. Further investigation is needed to see how those funds will directly benefit lower income residents in the area.
Hammond penned a note on the FHL website saying his previous statement was truncated and “inadvertently gives the impression that I think the High Line has not been a success. That couldn’t be farther from the truth or what I believe personally.” The organization has in recent years sought to broaden its coalition and recalibrate its efforts to address the issues of access to high-quality parks for diverse stakeholders. This has manifested into the creation of more public programming and the High Line Network, a coalition of designers invested in developing parks projects in other cities across the U.S. and Canada. The Network has met several times since its inception and has focused on projects like the L.A. River rehabilitation and Atlanta’s rail-to-trails Beltline.