Loving the Highline

As an elevated rail line, designed to lift freight trains serving the Hudson River docks above street level circulation, The High Line was originally constructed as material infrastructure for an industrial city. It was closed in 1960s and stood abandoned for the next forty years. In this time organic debris accumulated and decayed, and seeds landed on the newly forming soil creating a meadow on the derelict railbed. This microcosmic biome then also became a heterotopic, other space, in the social ecology of the city as an efflorescence of new art forms and underground subcultures flourished in the evacuated post-industrial spaces of Chelsea.

These processes would unfold as New York City was being transformed into a global center in an emerging political-economy defined by the integration of finance capital with media and information industries. In this, marginal spaces of the kind that developed in Chelsea, and the cultures that create them, became important sources of new aesthetic and cultural innovation, that offer an exploitable social ground from which to extract semiotic value. As the Bloomberg administration gave shape to this new regime, a project was initiated to convert the High Line into a publicly accessible, linear park. This would be realized through a convoluted process in which the manifold tensions and contradictions of the postmodern city would be dramatically played out and the disjunctions between ideal image regimes and the reality of the material substrates that support them would be brought to light, if only to be newly obscured.

The High Line urban park has been both heralded as a definitive model for new urban development, and denounced as a driver, or at least a morbid symptom, of devastating gentrification, and the destructive financialization of urban space. This text, originally published in 2015 as part of the Deconstructing the High Line anthology, edited by Mark Linder and Brian Rosa, tracks a collection of interconnected historical treads that converge in the reconstruction of the High Line, and situates the project within architectural discourse and practice, and social and material conditions with which it struggles to engage.

4 x 5.5 inches
80 pages
blue, green, and red risograph
printed by We Make It
edition of 200