by Bill Butos
The recently opened High Line Park in the hip Chelsea area on New York’s West Side is all the rage. The High Line sits on a stretch of a defunct elevated freight railway along 10thAvenue from Ganesvoort St. (which is just south of 14th St.) to 20th street. The City plans to extend it to 34th St. A green urban advocacy group, Friends of the High Line, has steered this part of the project to completion. It’s become a tourist destination and a favorite platform for celebs and fashionistas. And it fits perfectly into the nearby Meatpacking and Chelsea areas with their trendy eateries, late night clubs, and designer clothes shops. By all accounts it purports to represent the future of urban eco-friendly planning and judging by the number of visitors (about 20,000 per week), it’s a grand success. (See here and a video appreciation by supporters here.)
After my second walk-through, my appreciation turned slightly positive. It is fun walking above the streets and catching new perspectives of the City from 30 feet above. But the empty-lot weeds masquerading as (carefully maintained) indigenous flora still look ugly and many of the views are rather uninspiring. And I am also a taxpayer.
The High Line has created a lot of buzz, but not all of it is as gushing as the coverage by the NY Times. The New York Post’s coverage is not so sanguine, as it has highlighted the taxpayer construction cost of $172 million and its per acre maintenance cost (the highest of any NYC park) the High Line somehow seems to require. (See here and here.)
Some of these operating costs could be deferred if property owners in the Chelsea area collaborate with the City in agreeing to make the area a “Business Improvement District.“ In its Annual Report of 2008, the Small Business Services agency says:
New York City is home to the largest network of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the United States, with 64 BIDs serving neighborhoods across all five boroughs. A BID is a public / private partnership in which property and business owners elect to make a collective contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of their commercial district
(Quoted from here.)
A friend at City Hall tells me that it might take a while for Chelsea to become a BID, even if the locals want to. In the meantime, the operating expenses will be borne by taxpayers. Some see the High Line Park as a visionary example of the future. For others it provides a hot runway for the glitterati with the rest of us paying the freight.
Actually I like seeing all of that, but why should other taxpayers have to pay for my quirks? Whatever happened to turnstyles? The facility is a limited access park (entrances staircases every few blocks) that could easily be fitted with gates requiring users to pay an entrance fee by swiping their Metro Cards. That’s not a perfect solution, as its fall short of privatizing the High Line, but it would tend to better align users with operating costs and lessen the burden of taxpayers who have no interest in such diversions.