Vancouver consultant Solomon Wong was in New York for a weekend, and made it a priority to see the newly opened Highline — a crumbling elevated rail line in Manhattan, transformed into a pedestrian greenway — both day and night. It's just possibly the most significant new public space in North America.
You can see his Picasa slideshow here.
I'm planning a trip to NYC and definitely looking forward to seeing the High Line but my snarky question is not whether it is great — I bet it is — but does it offer any specific lessons or models which can be applied elsewhere? What can we learn from the High Line?
My sense is that the High Line is so sui generis that it offers very few lessons which people would be happy to apply elsewhere (beyond the excellent lesson not to be small-mind and rules things out prematurely.) For example, in Seattle one might argue that the Viaduct should be preserved as a walking space even if we build the Tunnel. (Neither is likely, actually.) I think an awful lot of people would be appalled by that idea — but why not? The High Line is a huge bulky presence; so is the Viaduct but with far better views.
The High Line is probably a great park and certainly a great media event. But what can we learn from it? What can it teach us that can be applied in other cities? Besides the big one that we should not be scared to use our imagination and to dream? Which is no small part of the High Line's brilliance and could be sufficient. (Question meant sincerely.)
This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy%u2019s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks - the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.
But we are still in the present. The technology (i.e. a really great ebook reading device) is not yet in widespread use or maybe even in existence. (I suspend judgment on Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader and others.) Soon, perhaps, we'll have a great reader. But soon is not now.
The answer is not much. Of course suburbanization is not dependent on cars or highways. The Romans had "suburbs" and they used carts and asses. Hey -- "sub-urb" is even a Latin word! England had 'suburbs' based on horse-drawn buses and then trains. Cities have been growing for thousands of years and today's "'suburb' is often tomorrow's in-city neighborhood.
The issue is NOT and never has been suburbanization per se. The issue is purely auto-dependent suburbs which are designed to require cars, and do not accommodate walkers much less buses and bicyclists. The problem is the creation of residential areas in which children, old people (past the ages of driving) and poorer people are isolated and dependent on others to drive them. That is just one example of what is wrong with purely auto-dependent suburbs. The shape of city growth is a critical socio-economic issue and it is totally mis-characterized for an unstated but, to me, obvious and very political purpose.
Let's put it another way: there is nothing wrong with building "suburbs" — places beyond the boundary of current urban development — which offer people a variety of ways — cars, buses, trains, bikes and feet — to get to and around them.
The mission is simple: ensure that all City policy promotes sustainable urbanism. And no apologies about the use of the word "urbanism." Seattle is a city, and it's going to become more urban over time, and that is a good thing. And for that matter, no apologies about the use of the word "sustainable" either. We all know what it means, and we all know it is imperative. (italics added)
"And for that matter, no apologies about the use of the word ’sustainable’ either. We all know what it means..."
"We all know what it means."
Surely you jest.
Such a sentiment is pure hubris. No way do we all, or anyone, know what it means. You have just elucidated the very reason why I would be very much against the proposal: arrogance, pride, know-it-allism.
Green roofs for example (and the visual highlight of the post referenced above.) Do they make any sense? From a cost-effectiveness basis? When? Where? How? No one yet knows for sure. (And if someone tells that they do know, they are either a knave or a fool.) Green roofs are a noble experiment — but they are an experiment.
So in the most loving and respectful way, let me call bullshit that we all know what sustainability means in the real world of gravity and weathering and finite resources.
Jacobs did not oppose only highways and urban renewal, but also far more benign private projects such as NYU's library. Education is crucial to urban success. Surely a twelve-story university library would not have hurt Greenwich Village. (italics added)
No, surely it depends on the design of the library. Glaeser continues the mistake of "Euclidian" zoning and emphasizes use rather than design. A library, as marvelous as it may be in providing access to books, can simultaneously hurt the walkable sidewalk or adjacent neighborhood. A library which is not designed to support walkable urbanism (i.e. in my terminology is not designed according to the 3 Rules) indeed will hurt any walkable neighborhood or will at least not help it. Government and NGO buildings — libraries, hospitals, museums, fire stations and all the associated office buildings which support such institutions — are often the worst offenders against walkable urbanism and largely because they are and indeed snobbishly see themselves as above the market.
Update: I urge you to read Benjamin Hemric's comment to this post. He knows a hell of a lot more than I do about Jane Jacobs and her thinking about cities.