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The High Line Has Become a Tunnel Through Glass Towers

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The High Line was an epiphany when it opened in 2009, a moment suspended between neglect and possibility. The strips of curated wilderness, the medieval-looking iron railings, the disorienting views, the way the viaduct ducked beneath buildings or squeezed through narrow openings to emerge into a broader cityscape—the whole sequence contained the city’s irresistible theatricality. That mirage has taken a decade to dissipate. (Though it is preserved in Google Street View, ca. 2011.)

Today, the High Line serves as an elevated cattle chute for tourists, who shuffle from the Whitney to Hudson Yards, squeezed between high glass walls and luxury guard towers. The views are mostly gone, which is a good thing because stopping to admire one would cause a 16-pedestrian pileup. The rail-level traffic mirrors the congestion overhead, caused by construction so hellbent on milking New York’s waning real estate hyper-boom that any patch of land bigger than a tick’s front yard is considered suitable for luxury condos.

Even before that first day, the seeds of the High Line’s destruction were already scattered among the new plantings. The park came to exist because a small coterie of activists believed they could transform an eyesore into an amenity. An abandoned delivery route for sides of beef, they argued, could become a kind of fast-acting yeast for real-estate prices. But even if you understood that a future of multimillion-dollar penthouses was baked into the park from the beginning, even if you foresaw that a neighborhood where lamb’s blood ran in the streets would attract architectural talent from all over the world, even if you understood that preserving an industrial relic would change the city all around it—even if all that was clear, you still would not have been prepared for today’s scrum of construction. New and still unfinished buildings crowd the length of the High Line like guests at a party where everyone is talking too loud, standing too close, and jockeying for........

© Daily Intelligencer