While the High Line has heralded some changes in the area, it’s not the only factor in Chelsea’s continuing transformation
West Chelsea It’s both silly and naive to blame the High Line for the ongoing transformation of western Chelsea. Just as it’s silly and naive to credit the High Line with catalyzing $2 billion in new development (that number is quoted by journalists so frequently, authoritatively and reflexively that you would think it was inscribed in the Torah).
If you want to take the single factor approach in searching for an answer to what’s going on in my neighborhood, let’s blame Chelsea Market or Chelsea Piers, both of which pre-date the High Line. Or reach back farther in time to blame the opening of the first art gallery twenty years ago or even farther back in time to when the first young gentrifiers arrived in the 1960s and early 1970s (many of whom were gay men, so why not blame gay men while we’re at it!). And if the High Line had been demolished (an act of architectural barbarism called for by then mayor Rudy Giuliani and supported by the very same rapacious developers now using proximity to the High Line as a marketing tool), we’d be blaming that one factor, too.
Neighborhoods are shaped by multiple forces, including hyper-local developments like the High Line and national and international forces like the rise in income inequality. Just look at how that’s driving current real estate development across Manhattan (57th Street is a horror!). And in every neighborhood from the West Village to the Upper East Side long-time retailers are being driven out by skyrocketing rents. Eighth Avenue in Chelsea is suffering under those very same pressures and it’s hard to imagine that anyone but property owners are happy about the wave of chain stores, porn shops, and nail salons that have increasingly replaced cherished retailers.
Now, if we’re going to blame the High Line for all of Chelsea’s ills, let’s also give it some credit for bringing a priceless public amenity to the neighborhood, one that I use every morning before the crowds arrive. And don’t overlook the public programs for young and old rich and poor alike paid for and run by the High Line. I could live without the art program, but there are people who find it inspiring even if I find it confounding. And I hate that our city allows public parks to be paid for with private dollars rather than our tax dollars, but that’s the world we live in today. Don’t blame that, or all the ills of an unequal society, on the High Line. By the way, the Witch Hazel is in bloom on the High Line and that’s worth celebrating.
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