THE HIGH LINE AND TDR
One unusual and important project in which TDR played a key role is in the construction of New York City's High Line, a Ш-mile-long elevated linear park in Manhattan.19
The story begins in the mid-1930s. At that time an elevated railroad line, approximately 30 feet above ground level, running midblock between 10th and 11th Avenues in Manhattan, was completed. The line went between buildings, sometimes over one-story buildings, and, in a few cases, through buildings. It replaced a ground-level rail line and separated steam-powered freight trains from pedestrian and automotive traffic at ground level. Thus in its day it was a major traffic improvement. At the time, the Chelsea district through which the High Line ran contained considerable manufacturing and warehousing activity. Slightly to the west, the docks along the Hudson River were in active use for the handling of ocean freight. The line thus served an important commercial purpose.
In time, the economics of the area changed. Manufacturing and warehousing activity declined and the docks on the Hudson lost their shipping business to other ports that had the space to handle containerized freight. The High Line carried less and less freight. In 1980 the line carried its last shipment, three carloads of frozen turkeys.
The question then became what to do with the High Line. For about 20 years it was simply a rusting eyesore that served no purpose, depressed the value of nearby properties, and looked like a prime candidate for demolition. In fact, it was spared from demolition only because of uncertainty over who was responsible for its demolition.
At top left, the High Line right-of-way before work began. At right, the High Line shortly after its opening to the public in June 2009. Note
how it passes through the
adjacent building. Bottom left, the building is a new hotel supported on columns and underneath which the High Line passes.
In 1999 a citizens' group called Friends of the High Line formed the idea of getting the High Line converted into an above-street-level walking path, or urban linear park. In 2002 the newly elected administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the idea and brought the city's planning department into the process. One key problem was land ownership. For the project to proceed, the city had to become the owner of the land under the High Line. Buying the land or condemning it and paying the condemnation award would be a complex and expensive proposition. The problem was solved through the use of transfer of development rights. The property owners in question were given development rights that they could sell to property owners along 10th and 11th Avenues. The city thus obtained ownership without direct outlay or the necessity for condemnation. At that time the Manhattan market for both residential and commercial real estate was strong and so the property owners who received the development rights found a ready market for them. Note that in this case the sending and receiving areas are very close, about half a block, or approximately 100 yards, apart.
Funding for building the High Line comes from the city, federal grants, and private sources. The High Line has proven to be extremely popular, and somewhat comparable projects are under consideration in Chicago, Philadelphia, Jersey City, and St. Louis. The additional pedestrian traffic it has brought to the area and the transferred development rights have sparked a building boom on 10th and 11th Avenues.