Bloomberg to High Line Haters: Cities Change, Get Over It

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Change on the tracks. (Ed Reed/Mayor’s Office)

The High Line. Rejuvenator of neighborhoods, destroyer of neighborhoods.

Those are basically the two media narratives surrounding the elevated park on Manhattan’s West Side, which just held the groundbreaking for its third and final phase today. Most of the attention in the past has been on how great the design-y new park is, but as locals learn to live with the millions of visitors who flock to the park each year, some of them have started to complain, most notably in the Op-Ed pages of the Times, that the High Line has actually ruined, or at least Disneyfied, the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Asked about these changes today, Mayor Bloomberg did not necessarily disagree with the situation, just the sentiment.

“Cities that don’t change—if we didn’t change, Central Park would still be a shantytown; if we didn’t embrace new technology or medicines, life expectancies would still be 25 years old,” the mayor said. He then recounted what sounded like a favorite New Yorker cartoon where two cavemen discuss their wonderful lives but limited lifespan. He was not calling Chelsea long-timers troglodytes, we think, but underscoring the need for change.

Creating more park space, whatever its outcome, is not the only issue, either.

“Cities have to evolve,” the mayor continued. “We have a constant influx of people from around the world moving to this city, and the needs of the people who are here change. Today people are staying because the schools are better. Today we have a challenge because we need to provide more activities for more kids than we used to have. People from around the world want to come here. There’s always a challenge how you have enough affordable housing, how you build housing when the marketplace says it’s more and more valuable because more and more people want to come.”

After all, this is New York. “We’re going to keep changing, and that’s what’s great about New York,” the mayor concluded.

Joshua David, one of the High Line’s co-founders, went further, arguing the High Line may even be a victim of its own success.

“I also think the High Line gets too much credit and blame for the changes in the neighborhood,” he explained. “The Meatpacking was the Meatpacking way before the High Line. These condos, these developments were coming to Cheslea with or without the High Line. What you do have is a free, public, open park. And despite the changes, this is a strong reminder of the neighborhood’s industrial past.”

“It’s hard to think we would be better off without it. You’d still have the new development, you’d still have the new changes, you just wouldn’t have the new public open space.”