The High Line effect

Following the success of New York’s High Line placmaking, turning an old rail line into an elevated park, cities around the world are pursuing bold new projects that challenge our perceptions.

The High Line was always going to be a success. But how much of one? Well before the first section opened in 2009, the group behind turning an old rail line into an elevated park in New York estimated it would attract 400,000 tourists a year, and raise tax revenues by $286-million (U.S.) over 20 years. Impressive, but hardly overambitious.High line

The final section of the 2.4-kilometre-long park was completed last month, putting the finishing touch on what has become the most successful public-space transformation in the United States, if not the world. The High Line attracts five million visitors a year, making it the second most visited cultural venue in the city. Its financial impact has been similarly massive, attracting $2.2-billion in new economic activity and raising tax revenues by an estimated $980-million over the next two decades.

Now Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Rotterdam, Seoul, Toronto and Mexico City are all hoping to catch some of that magic with their own “parks in the sky.” These projects are redefining our understanding of what a park is, and in the process helping to create a richer, bold new vision of public space.image (1)

“Green space and parks do more than promote physical activity,” says Laura Jackson, a researcher for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency whose work focuses on the relationship between the built environment and human health. “The outdoors brings people together, so it facilitates social engagement, which is so important, particularly in urban areas where people can become isolated.”

Olmsted also believed that any great city park required a grand promenade. So-called linear parks such as the High Line take both of those two design principles and update them for the modern age.

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