High Line Solution

Back in the 90’s, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, along with a number of Manhattan citizens identified a major problem. The problem was an abandoned elevated rail… it was “standing in the way of progress.”

The High Line was built in the 1930s to provide freight service to Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Back in the day, the High Line moved freight cars through the center of blocks, connecting them directly to businesses, factories and warehouses. In addition, by elevating the tracks, the number of pedestrian deaths caused by train accidents was greatly reduced. The High Line, so it seemed, was a successful solution on many levels.

Starting in the 1950s, the growth in interstate trucking caused a drop in rail traffic. This trend continued into the 60s, when due to lack of demand, the southernmost section of the High Line was demolished. In 1980, the High Line was shut down. In the eyes of most people, this historic solution had become a major problem.

Citizens and property owners lobbied for the removal of this abandoned relic. Mayor Giuliani adamantly agreed… it was indeed a serious problem. If progress was to be made, this eyesore must go. The High Line was slated for demolition.

Like all great Pink Bat thinkers, freelance writer Joshua David and artist Robert Hammond remained open-minded. They knew that a “problem” is often a mislabeled solution… just waiting to be seen. The two first met in 1999 at a community meeting slated to discuss the High Line’s future.

“I was in love with the steel structure, the rivets, the ruin. I assumed that some civic group was going to try and preserve it, and I saw that it was on the agenda for a community board meeting. I went to see what was going on, and Josh was sitting next to me. We were the only people at the meeting who were interested in saving it,” Hammond told Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic and writer. (read “Miracle Above Manhattan”)

After convincing railroad officials to let them visit the site, these two citizens were overwhelmed by its potential. By focusing on the possibilities, they took action and created the community group, “Friends of the High Line,” and by extension, turned a perceived problem into a real solution.

Today, the High Line is a beautiful elevated park similar to the Promenade Plantée in Paris. Its designers, architects and developers also gleaned inspiration from another urban “Pink Bat” solution, Millennium Park in Chicago. At 25 feet above the streets, New Yorkers and visitors experience beautiful landscapes, plantings, views of the city, the Hudson River… and much more. The High Line, once considered a major problem, has created a renaissance of sorts in the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s spurred new business and real estate development all along the line.

What was standing in the way of progress wasn’t an outdated elevated train line, but a serious case of perceptual blindness. When we label something a problem, we stop seeing it for what it is… or what it can be. How many of your “problems” are actually mislabeled solutions?


3 Responses to “High Line Solution”

  1. Diane Hammon on June 20th, 2011 10:17 pm

    Great way to make us think differently–thanks for the nudge to get us on the “right track” H

  2. Michael on June 20th, 2011 10:35 pm

    Thank you, Diane. I thought this was a great “Pink Bat” example… as the “problem” was actually the solution. It was just mislabeled. Labels affect our perception and can prevent us from seeing real possibilities… especially when the wrong label is applied, endorsed by leadership and accepted by the group. Again, thanks for weighing in.

  3. Michael on October 29th, 2012 9:25 pm

    London finds inspiration from High Line Park for Its Economic Effects http://tinyurl.com/8pb962g

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