Friends of the High Line: Robert Hammond’s Urban Regeneration

Robert Hammond | The High Line, New York

For four years, the High Line – an unlikely park on Manhattan’s lower west side – has brought extraordinary growth to a forgotten neighbourhood. Its glaring distinction is its location: an elevated freight rail line that spans from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street. An anomaly among city attractions, it doubles as a tourist “must” and a beloved stomping ground for New York locals. From its lush wildflower gardens and rare views to cultural events and varied venues that now dot the surrounding area, the High Line’s virtues are many. The most exceptional detail, however, is that it exists at all.

“People love following crazy dreams, like the dream of the High Line,” says Robert Hammond, a consultant to non-profit organizations and co-founder of Friends of the High Line. Hammond met fellow downtowner Joshua David, a journalist, in 1999 at a community board meeting. The two shared a love of this then-abandoned structure, and created Friends of the High Line in the unlikely hope of saving it from demolition. “Josh and I had no experience in architecture or urban planning,” Hammond insists. “It just goes to show that you don’t need experience, money, or even much of a plan. We just saw an opportunity to change our neighbourhood. Josh and I get most of the credit, but we simply raised the flag and allowed others to get behind it.”

Gansevoort End, Plaza, and Stairs, Gansevoort and Washington Streets

Gansevoort End, Plaza, and Stairs, Gansevoort and Washington Streets © Friends of the High Line, 2013

The pair summoned support from many prominent city residents – from Mayor Bloomberg and top city council members to designer Diane von Furstenberg and financier Philip Falcone – and raised more than $130 million. In 2004, the city committed to help finance its development. Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro were joined by top global landscape, planting, and lighting firms in its execution and its first section opened to the public in June 2009. “We wanted to see it become a well-loved park for New Yorkers and inspire other people to know that they can start their own projects,” Hammond says. “What has surprised me most is how much people love it, and that it continues to have such an impact. New York has a great need for open spaces, and this open space has led to $2 billion in new development in the neighbourhood.”

Chelsea Grasslands, between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, looking North

Chelsea Grasslands, between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, looking North © Friends of the High Line, 2013

The High Line – which welcomed four million visitors last year – makes a great argument for repurposing cities’ industrial infrastructure. Beyond its beauty and ideal location, its 450-plus annual cultural happenings are a major draw. “Our art programs are constantly changing,” Hammond notes. “One of our new shows is called “˜Busted,’ focusing on the many busts and statues throughout out city parks. Because the High Line runs through Chelsea, the biggest gallery district in the world, we feel a responsibility to bring contemporary art to the public.”

Falcone Flyover, aerial evening view at West 26th Street, looking South.  ©Iwan Baan, 2011

Falcone Flyover, aerial evening view at West 26th Street, looking South © Iwan Baan, 2011

Though an unlikely destination – with unlikely champions – the High Line is a New York treasure, and is likely to stand proud for many years to come.

Header photo © Robert Hammond at the High Line

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Visit, friend thehighline on Facebook, or follow highlinenyc on Twitter to stay up to date on the park’s ever-changing roster of events.

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Written by Andrew Stone 

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About Andrew Stone

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Andrew Stone covers architecture and design for Interior Design magazine and is the former editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Confidential. A busy bee within the worlds of culture, style, and dining, he has interviewed celebrities and hot shots aplenty for various publications. Stone nurtures his two-decade love affair with his city as the resident Manhattan reporter for Stone is the author of both Hg2 New York and Hg2 Los Angeles. What makes him a hedonist? "The desire to have firsthand knowledge of life's great offerings."
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