24 March 2010

How the Highline Looks to Out-of-Towners

My parents were in town recently, staying in a hotel in Chelsea. They had nothing to do one morning, so I suggested they check out Manhattan's newest, coolest, most-in-the-news park, the High Line. They did.

And the verdict? "What a big nothing," said my mother, who has has kept a huge and locally celebrated flower garden in her backyard for decades. "It's full of weeds." I explained that the species that were planted were chosen on purpose for their wild and natural character. "It's not anything we'd plant back home in a park." She added that, in the winter, when such wild plants turn brown, the spectacle amounts to less than a big nothing.

"Not much a view," observed my dad, saying the the elevated tracks only allowed you a close-up of the dirty sides of old brick buildings, underlying traffic and the West Side Highway. I had to admit that this was indeed the view one got on the High Line. They hoped the thing hadn't cost too much. I said that it had cost a great deal of money, and more was being poured into the project every day. It was the most expensive new park in the City, and our Mayor's pet project. They rolled their eyes the way only visitors can when confronted with the folly of New Yorkers.


wh said...

I think this post would be better titled "How the Highline Looks to My Parents"

Stray Bongo said...

Next thing you'll tell us is that they didn't "get" Shake Shack and Magnolia Bakery.

BrooksNYC said...

In your parents' defense, I think it takes while for some of us to develop "New York eyes."

I grew up in New Orleans and lived in DC before moving to New York in 1970. New Orleans and DC are two cities whose beauty even a first-time visitor can appreciate.

When I moved to NYC, I was instantly smitten with the city's energy, but didn't find it beautiful. Compared to DC and NOLA, anyway, it seemed rough, gritty, monochromatic, and too hard-edged. It took me a few years to appreciate it, and now, much of what I came to cherish about NYC is either gone or endangered.

I like the idea of the High Line more than the reality. It's nicely done, but....I don't know. It doesn't move me. In half a dozen visits, I've yet to find its soul. (Is it because everything around it has been sterilized and buffed to a high, glossy sheen?)

Your out-of-town parents reacted like out-of-town parents, and it made me laugh. Your mother wanted pretty flowers, and your father wanted better views. Classic! If my parents were alive, they'd say the same thing.

Gallic Cossack said...

Dear Lost,

We live on West 23rd Street barely a block from the celebrated Highline, designed to be a source of graft and bloated salaries for a chosen few. My wife and I couldn't agree more with your parents! What a waste of money and resources.

Gallic Cossack
The Haughty Snifter

MartinD28 said...

I generally concur with your folks. The Highline was a far more exciting space when visited as a ruin. Millions could have been saved if they stabilized the structure and just put up a simple path through the existing grounds.

Beth in the Bronx said...

This is exactly why I recently instituted a strict policy for family/friends visiting: they must tell me what the are interested in doing ahead of time. They need to understand that I am not really interested in the conventional tourist things (Statue of Liberty esp) but will take them to these places if they decide what they want to do. I can't decide for them because I know that they will not enjoy the things that interest me--like the Highline or St. John the Dvine.

Carl LaFong said...

I walked the High Line, and thought it was wonderful.

My friends walked the High Line, and couldn't say enough great things about it.

Then I read the critics, who called the High Line a triumph of urban design.

But still, the question lingered in the back of my mind: What do a couple of 70-year-old Wisconsinites think about the High Line? Because these are truly the people who are best-equipped to judge the success or failure of public projects in New York.

I once dated a girl whose father was from Wisconsin. He visited New York and thought all the cab drivers were terrorists because they had dark skin.

I do not care what old people from Wisconsin have to say about New York.

I will say that I enjoyed my visit to the Wisconsin Dells, even though the people there eat like animals. The water-skiing show was tremendous.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I merely posted this as an amusing glance as to how some, who don't live and breathe New York, might see the much-vaunted High Line.

When my parents said this to me, I was surprised, and my eyes opened up a bit. Because all I've ever heard is how great the High Line is. It never occurred to me that some might regard it as a snooze and a failure and not the greatest damn thing on Earth.

I love New York and will defend it to the death. But we live in a bubble and often lack perspective. I think the idea that the High Line is full of weeds and is bordered by ugly buildings is a legitimate take on the thing. Not necessarily my take. But a take.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Carl LaFong: It's become clear to me that you're a willful crank, and you don't like this blog or it author. So go comment on another blog that you approve of. The egg time on my patience with you is about five seconds from going "Ding!"

Carl LaFong said...


If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

If you don't want to hear other people's opinions, don't have a blog. Especially an opinionated blog.

I don't understand why it bothers you so much that there are people in this world who disagree with you.

Are you really going to start censoring the people who want to post here?

JM said...

Brooks, I've lived here for 25 years now, and your parents are right. One error in your post--at the end you say 'the folly of New Yorkers', and though the comments show that for some New Yorkers this is true, I thing 'the folly of Bloomberg' may have been more to the point. The man has wasted so much money on superfluous 'beautification' projects, he should be charged with malfeasance.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Carl LaCrank: I don't mind people who disagree with me and state their views in a constructive manner. There are many fine commenters here like that. But commenters who just want to grind their ax and throw abuse, I object to. And just as I reserve the right not to post Anonymous comments, I also reserve the right to cut off commenters who have no more interest in debate than the bully blowhards on talk radio. That would seem to include you.

So far, in you comments of the past week, you have called me or my blog "weird," "trivial," "nonsense," "stupid," "serial idiocy," "creepy," and "stalker-like."

You also like to issue orders to me and other commenters, like "Stop it!" and "Get out of the kitchen."

I lot of hot-air artists write letters to the editor. But the newspaper doesn't publish them all, do they? Only the ones that merit publishing.

Nathan said...

Put me in the "locals who love it" column. I posted about it when it first opened and the comments from locals vs. folks from out of town reflect your parents' reaction pretty well. (The first hayta' is from Alaska.)

mingusal said...

Of course, there are plenty of parks in NYC, in the right season, with the pretty flowers, etc. your parents wanted to see, including some like Ft. Tryon (the Cloisters) and Wave Hill with stunning views.

What's interesting about the High Line's aesthetic is that it's basically an attempt to replicate, at the cost of many millions, the urban funkiness of its previous life as an abandoned structure that stood on the city's margin, trod by the city's marginal characters, for years. But, like so much of today's city, it has been replicated in a sanitized, and presumably safer, high-end fashion-magazine version, with just a hint of the frisson of the authentic margin expressed in its designer weeds. It's a kind of very nice "themed" simulacrum of the NYC of previous decades.

Matthew said...

Mingusal hits the nail on the head.

I think it would have been much more effective if it was deemed a natural sanctuary, structuarlly stabilized, and basically left alone. it would have been a fascinating long term experiment in urban ecology to just leave the thing along and see what colonizes it. It'm a botanist, so I may be biased. It was a good idea, but what we got is bascially some hip-designers idea of "wild NY"