Michael Sorkin, the architect and writer, who lives in Chelsea, is also in favor of the park. Who doesn’t love a park? “It’s going to be a great park,” he says. “But if it proves to be another really big nail in the process of making Manhattan into the world’s largest gated community, so be it. Let it be remembered for that.”
David hears those concerns and answers by pointing to Central Park: another entirely constructed landscape, buoyed by money but enjoyed by everyone. The High Line, too, he says, will be a public space that just happens to be surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the world. True—but unlike Central Park, the High Line isn’t big enough to allow you to ever truly escape that fact. Everyone, from park visitors to nearby diners to condo dwellers to hotel guests, will be invited to enjoy the High Line, but each from their own side of the glass.
As it happens, the High Line arrives at the exact moment when the legacy of Robert Moses—the imperious former New York City parks commissioner who had his own visions for the city—is being rehabilitated, or at least exhumed. Three separate museums this year mounted exhibits asking visitors to revisit his grandly imagined, and subsequently vilified, plans to remake New York into an expressway-laden megaplex, efficiently absorbing the daily swarms of auto-bound commuters. The most notorious of these schemes is the one that never got built: The Cross-Manhattan Expressway, an elevated highway that would have wiped out much of Soho and torn through the heart of Greenwich Village. Jane Jacobs, the feisty, elfin champion of small-scale urbanism, opposed, and eventually defeated, Moses, and her theories on lively neighborhoods with bustling sidewalks, with dry cleaners and diners and greengrocers, have been entrenched as conventional wisdom ever since.
Whatever you think of Moses’s legacy, there’s one thing Moses and the High Line have in common. We can look back now and see Moses’s work as an artifact of its time; a result, right or wrong, of his idea of the city, of what New York could, and should, become. The High Line, too—by which I mean the park, the neighborhood, the festival, the ballroom, the lounge—will one day look to us like a monument to the time we live in now. A time of great optimism for the city’s future. A time of essentially unfettered growth. A time when a rusted railbed could beget a park, and a park could beget a millionaire’s wonderland. And a time when the city was, for many, never safer, never more prosperous, and never more likely to evoke an unshakable suspicion: that more and more, New York has become like a gorgeous antique that someone bought, refurbished, and restored, then offered back to you at a price you couldn’t possibly afford.