Assistant Professor of Anthropology,
Montclair State University
The High Line: Negotiating the Public/Private Divide in the Luxury City
The High Line park, located on an elevated railroad trestle on the west side of Manhattan, is widely seen as a triumph of urban public space. It is celebrated as a “grassroots” project emerging not from the state or developers but from civil society, and its combination of plantings, postindustrial infrastructure, art installations, well-maintained and designed walkways and benches, and novel perspectives on the city is touted as a major accomplishment of urban design. Yet the High Line is bedeviled by a number of emerging tensions and contradictions. Maintaining high quality space is expensive, necessitating private funding of this nominally government-owned and controlled project. Moreover, the qualities that make the High Line attractive to some have made it anathema to others, generating a growing backlash. Finally, the “natural,” “gritty” and “postindustrial” aesthetics of the project, and its public-ness, have attracted private development that threatens these qualities. All this has placed the Friends of the High Line, the private nonprofit that conceived of, shepherded, and now helps administer the development in a bind between its claim to represent “the public interest” and its need to curry favor with wealthy donors, real estate developers, tourists, the “creative class,” and a city government pushing for the gentrification of the surrounding area. This paper, by addressing the ways in which these tensions are playing themselves out in this prominent case, addresses the complex, contradictory, and multilayered ways in which the public-private divide is being redrawn in contemporary, neoliberalizing cities.
Julian Brash is assistant professor of Anthropology at Montclair State University. He is the author of Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City (University of Georgia Press, 2011) and articles in Social Text, Urban Anthropology, Critique of Anthropology, and Antipode. He received a PhD in Anthropology from the Graduate Center of City University of New York in 2006 and a Masters Degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University in 2000.