Poverty Below the High Line
Sahra Mirbabaee. Feb 1, 2013
Of all the factors that contribute to urban livability — including public health, education and infrastructure — policy is often focused disproportionately on economic growth. In pursuit of this assumed prerequisite for prosperity, municipal governments around the world are investing in urban design. At the same time, this investment is fueling inequality and displacement. The allocation of public funds to places of high economic potential favors the rich, creating an unfair playing field for all tax-payers. One of the most striking examples of this trend is the High Line in New York City.
Built on an elevated former railway, the High Line park runs 1.45 miles along Manhattan’s West Side. Since the 1990s, the surrounding neighborhoods have changed from a downtrodden post-industrial area to a hot spot in the city’s social and cultural scenes. They’re now home to many bars, galleries, restaurants and shops like Barneys, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. Past neglect created the conditions for profitable redevelopment, as evident in “Alphabet City” and many other Manhattan districts over the past 20 years.
Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has been hailed as an inspiring use of architecture for urban renewal. It has a large fan-base, including the municipal government. In fact, the High Line has thrived “within the confines of the community of money” because of strong government support. The first two installments cost areported $152.3 million, and the third is projected to cost $86.2 million. Funding sources comprise $112 million from the city government, $20.3 million from the federal government, $400,000 from the state and $44 million from private donations. Operating costs are estimated at $2-4 million per year. With over half the High Line’s budget coming from public funds, concerns over the return on this investment are more than justified.