Dodging the High Line Effect in Western Queens

Authors: Julia Rothenberg*, Queensborough Community College, CUNY, Steve Lang, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY
Topics: Urban Geography, Landscape, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: New York City, Growth Machine, postindustrial reuse, public space, gentrification
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Bayside C, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Cities throughout the world increasingly rely on government-backed, redevelopment schemes that use planning and rezoning tools to harness private capital to pay for adaptive reuse projects. While such models are praised by developers for being engines of economic growth, their existence depends on negotiating with community groups, which in many cases means offering them a piece of the growth machine pie. However, such partnerships are inherently problematic as they highlight contradictions between the profit-making goals of developers and a community’s desires for enhanced public space.
New York City’s High Line, a derelict elevated rail line repurposed as a park is a case in point. Early on, Friends of the High Line (FHL), the community-based, nonprofit organization spearheading the project, partnered with developers to finance the park. While hailed by the city’s growth machine as an economic development tool for boosting real estate values and tourism revenues, critics, including Robert Hammond, founding director of FHL have pointed out that the park has become an exclusionary engine of gentrification and neighborhood displacement. In response to such criticisms, the FHL launched a program aimed at helping community groups attempting to create projects similar to the Highline to avoid such problems.
Our research focuses on the emerging activities of a coalition of grassroots park advocates who are in the process of developing an abandoned elevated railway in Western Queens, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood into a public space. We explore in particular, how they negotiate issues of equity and displacement while forming alliances with developers.

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