Parks for profit: The High Line, growth machines, and the uneven development of urban public spaces

Loughran, K.

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Loughran, K. (2014). Parks for profit: The High Line, growth machines, and the uneven development of urban public spaces. City & Community, 13(1), 49–68.

This paper investigates the growing inequality of public spaces in contemporary cities. In the era of neoliberal urbanism, stratified economic and cultural resources produce a spectrum of unevenly developed public parks, ranging from elite, privatized public spaces in wealthy districts to neglected parks in poor neighborhoods. Contemporary economic and cultural practices in public space are equally segmented, as privileged public spaces such as New York’s High Line reflect the consumption habitus of the new urban middle class, while violence, disinvestment, and revanchist policing permeate public spaces on the urban periphery. Using New York’s High Line as an archetypal neoliberal space, I trace its redevelopment from a decaying railroad viaduct to a celebrated public park. I argue that contemporary parks and public spaces are best analyzed on a continuum of privilege.

Main finding
The author uses the High Line to illustrate the role of privilege, economic growth, and consumption in the creation and maintenance of public spaces. He complicates the narrative of the High Line's redevelopment by noting the social networks used to create the park and the economic rationale for doing so, such as a 2012 Summer Olympic bid and concomitant zoning deregulation to promote development. While public officials advertised the park as a space for all New Yorkers, the author argues that the High Line is a park marked by "spatial privilege." Security guards and park employees patrol the park, strict regulations control the sight of refuse, and a complicated and expensive application process screens out unwanted vendors. Most notably, the author illustrates that through advocacy, social capital, and economic incentive, the High Line was transformed from an unwanted eyesore into a centerpiece for gentrification and economic growth.

Description of method used in the article
The author employed a multi-method approach to studying the High Line. He analyzed newspaper articles, public meeting minutes, press releases, and advertising material, conducted observations in the park for four months, attended Friends of the High Line tours, and conducted twenty-four interviews with tour guides, vendors, and park employees.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Case Study Field Observations Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations