Authors at Google: Joshua David, Robert Hammond, "HIGH LINE: ..."

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 11.04.2012

>>female presenter: Good afternoon, everyone. Authors at Google New York is very pleased
to welcome Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who are neighbors of ours here in New York.
And they are responsible for the High Line. I mean, how much more do I have to say?
>>Joshua David: Thank you all for joining us today. I'm Josh. That's Robert. And we
wrote a book that came out in October. Oh, my shirt's undone. And it's called "High Line:
The--." I forget the subtitle now. It has a longer subtitle. But it's about the High
Line and it's on sale in the back. And Google has very generously arranged to have it be
at a discount to all of you.
So, it's ten dollars. It's a great buy. And we've been wanting to come and talk to you
a little bit about it for a few months now and the date kept moving around a little.
So, we're thrilled to be here. It's really an incredible journey that we've been on and
a lot of folks who work at Google have been on with us as well over the past 12 years
or so from when we started Friends of the High Line to where we are now, where we have
nearly four million visitors a year coming to the High Line.
And so, it's hard to imagine when you go up there now to imagine that once this was not
open to the public, was threatened with demolition, was going to be torn down. It was a very different
scenario just 12 years ago. And our book tells a little bit of that story. So you know this
well, but this is the map of where the High Line runs along the West Side of Manhattan.
These were the conditions that led to the construction of the High Line. Trains started
running down the West Side in the 1860s. And immediately, people were getting killed by
the intersection of train traffic and other kinds of vehicles--horse-drawn carts, cars,
and pedestrians. And the avenues became known as Death Avenue because of these collisions.
And because of that, the City of New York required that a man on horseback had to ride
in front of each train. They were called the West Side Cowboys. And this is one of them.
This is the High Line under construction. It started construction in 1929 and went to
1934. And you can see another elevated structure to the left in this image, which was the old
Miller elevated highway.
There used to be an elevated highway along the West Side that was built around the same
time. More construction shots. And this is the High Line when it was completed in 1934
and trains started running on it. And one of the interesting things about the way that
it was built and the way that it was used was trains actually were supposed to go through
They loaded and unloaded directly into warehouses and factories. And that was an efficiency
system. And it's one of the things that makes the High Line such an interesting part of
the built environment today. This is the way that I first saw the High Line from the ground
and Robert as well. I live in Chelsea. Robert lives in the Village.
We didn't know each other. Became interested in this odd relic that ran through our neighborhoods.
But never really saw it from up above, only saw it from the bottom. And thought, "Wow.
That's an interesting structure and maybe something interesting could be done with it."
This is the landscape that grew up on top of it after the trains stopped running.
This was a photograph that was taken by photographer named Joel Sternfeld in around 2000. But we
didn't even see this when we started Friends of the High Line. We just saw it from the
street and thought it was something amazing.
We happened to meet at a community board meeting in 1999. We were both the only two people
there who thought that something should happen to the High Line other than it being torn
down. Everybody was there was in favor of demolishing it. But we thought this runs for
22 blocks, through three different neighborhoods. Here's an amazing opportunity to create a
new way of seeing the city.
>>Robert Hammond: So, Josh was a travel writer before this. And my background was in little
bit internet start-ups. And so, people think, "Oh." Someone asks, "Can we see your business
plan for how you were thinking about starting the High Line?" And we really had no plan.
We had no money. And we really had no relevant experience.
People assume we're architects or designers. And in some ways, that's one of the keys to
the success of the High Line was not having a plan. [laughs] And not having any experience
because we really--. And it's great 'cause now Josh and I get all this credit for doing
this. But the most important thing we did was really just raise the flag and allowed
other people to come along to help us that did have the experience and that did have
the money.
And that helped us coalesce around a plan. We also had a lot of opposition. And now,
the High Line is generally pretty popular, but at the time, everyone really wanted to
tear it down. The developers in the neighborhood wanted to tear it down. People in the community,
some of them it was a reminder they lived in a bad neighborhood in the past because
the trains used to run through it.
But this guy was our main opponent--Giuliani. And but it turned out it actually started
working in our favor because if people weren't interested in the history or the pretty pictures,
the wildflowers, we could say, "Well, Giuliani hates it and wants to--."
And they'd be like, "Oh, well then it must be a great idea."
"I would love to help you." The other thing that we really concentrated on early on was
design. So, one of the very first things we did was get a logo. And it's still on our
business card. And it's now the logo of the park.
And it was designed by a woman named Paula Scher from Pentagram. And the goal was one,
to make us look like--. This is what someone, one of our critics used to say is this project's
just two guys and a logo. Which we thought was a compliment. But it made us feel like
we were more than just two guys working out of their apartments.
And so, it was also a commitment to design, that we weren't just, if we were successful,
we weren't just gonna throw up a stair and a planter and call it a day. We were actually
gonna--. Good design was gonna follow all the through if we ever wanted to build something
up there. So, going back to this Joel Sternfeld photo, because this was also one of the keys
to the success was these photos.
So, this photographer, Joel Sternfeld, went up there and he took pictures for us for one
year, between 2000 and 2001. And we published it in a book called "Walking the High Line."
And there's some of the photos in our book. But you just see it in all different seasons.
And this is really what people feel in love with, especially this picture was the key
to the success.
We realized we could just talk less and show this photo more and often. And this is what
helped people just imagine their own dreams of what could be done with the High Line.
This is--. I don't know how many of y’all remember the restaurant Florent. It used to
be on Gansevoort. This is Florent. It was like a French bistro.
It was one of the first things in this neighborhood. It was open 24 hours. People would go after
going to clubs. And every Bastille Day, Florent would dress up as Marie Antoinette. And this
year, he did the Marie Antoinette as the High Line with the train going around the bustle
and the hat.
>>male #1: [inaudible ]
>>Robert Hammond: I know. I know. It's sad now. But I think he's happier now that he
doesn't have the restaurant. So, but the reason I put this slide up there is also--. Well,
I'll go to the next slides. It's more exciting. We thought we'd--. A semi-nude photo and if
you're getting a little sleepy at lunch, it could liven things up.
Because one of the early keys to the success was the gay community. Josh and I are both
gay. And those were a lot of the people that lived in the neighborhood. Those were just
our friends. And so, they really coalesced around this project. And this is a talk we
gave at the center a while ago about the role, not just of the gay community that helped
us, but the role that the gay community has played in preservation projects all over the
city and the world.
>>Joshua David: Still going?
>>Robert Hammond: Yup. So, Mayer Bloomberg came in office. He was more supportive than
Giuliani, but 9/11 had happened. We were in an economic crisis. He didn't care about the
pictures of Joel Sternfeld's wildflowers and he didn't care about the naked guy on the
High Line really. He cared more if it made economic sense.
So, we commissioned an economic feasibility study by a guy named John Alschuler at a firm
called HR and A, to prove that it made economic sense. So, we looked--. The best example of
a park really creating value is Central Park. We said, "OK. Central Park's too big, too
popular. Let's look at parks no one's ever heard of."
That means some of y’all might 'cause it's around the neighborhood like the Christopher
Park, Duane Park. And the buildings around those parks are more valuable to anywhere
from six to thirteen percent. We also met with real estate marketers. And they said
the real way you create more value is you create a district, a place people wanna work
in, live in, visit, shop in.
And so, we started--. We'd already started thinking about the High Line as a connector
of different things and this is map that actually, the woman who did our logo, drew of the neighborhood,
Paula Scher. And it just listed all the different things happening. It was helping us show that
this could connect it all together.
'Cause the West Village wasn't as popular at the time. And so, the study showed--. We
got the study actually wrong. This is the findings. We thought it would cost a hundred
million to build. So far, it's cost about 150 million. And we said over a 20-year time
period, the incremental tax benefits to the city would be about 250 million dollars.
The city has recently revised those numbers and it's coming in more like 900 million dollars.
So, it turns out to have been a good investment. The city was actually--. We didn't really
believe these numbers [laughs] when we presented them. We were fluffing them up.
>>Joshua David: Mmm.
>>Robert Hammond: But the city believed enough of them to go forward and really got behind
the project. And so, but even in 2003, with the city behind us, we just really, we still
had no money. We had more of maybe a vague plan. And we still, the property owners that
owned property underneath were suing the city to tear it down.
So, and no one knew what the High Line was. It's like, you asked people the thing and
you say, "Oh, the thing with pigeon shit when you go under it." And they go, "Oh, that thing.
I hate that thing." But so, we did an ideas competition. And it was really just to create
awareness of the project and have people think about it in different ways. And this was one
of our favorites for many reasons. But it was a mile-long lap pool,--
which I still think would be an amazing idea. Some of the other concepts were more artistic,
like turning it into this icon.
This was more of a political manifesto, where you would imprison people in the I-beams of
the High Line. And I don't know why they put a pool in there, too, but--. This, I think,
was playing off of "High," maybe--High Line. And then, this--. This was actually looking
at programming. What would happen in and around the High Line?
And this is what's really come true so much. It's not just what happens on the High Line,
but what happens in the neighborhood all around it. This was our favorite, was the mile-long
roller coaster.
And this possibly could have been better than what we did 'cause you leave it all just as
it was and then this urban scene, seeing people's apartments and zoom down. And we had the exhibition
at Grand Central because the idea was to not make it just a local project, but to make
it that this is important for the whole city.
And we also--. Josh and I didn't have a specific vision on what we thought should go up there.
And that was one of the advantages of not being an architect. We said, "The city, the
community, should decide what was up there." So, we started doing a whole bunch of open
houses. And this is a postcard asking people what you want, where we asked them, "What
do you wanna see up there?"
Even before we really started designing, we've now done about probably over, way over a dozen
of these. We just had one about two weeks ago for the new section. And you'll see some
of the designs for that. And we're gonna have more. We'll have another one this summer.
If you're interested, just sign up for an email newsletter or Facebook. We're getting
And we partnered--. We've had to fight Giuliani, but then it was really about partnering with
government. And Bloomberg was very supportive. Christine Quinn, who's now the speaker of
the City Council, lives in the neighborhood, Hilary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Jerry Nadler
all really got behind the project and it became really a public/private partnership. I love
this photo 'cause none of them are looking at each other.
They can all stand together, but not have to acknowledge each other. So, when we got
the political support, we still needed to get the property owners on-board. So, we actually
looked, again, at Grand Central. And everyone knows there are a lot of--. You might have
heard the story of Jackie O., how she saved Grand Central from being demolished.
But the other part of the story is one of the ways they saved it was they allowed the
owners, the railroad, to transfer development rights anywhere in the neighborhood. It's
also what saved the theaters and Times Square in the 90s. And so, we used the same mechanism.
And it had only been used a few times in the city, but it allowed the property owners to
transfer development rights anywhere in the neighborhood.
Normally, you can only transfer to an adjacent property owner and if they don't need your
air rights or are already fully built-out, you're out of luck. So, this really created
a market for these air rights. It helped us get the property owners on-board.
>>Joshua David: So then, with that work done, we set about actually designing the park that
would be on the High Line. And it was a very different process than the design ideas competition
that Robert was showing you a little bit about before. Those design ideas, they could come
from anyone. You didn't have to have any experience.
You didn't have to be an architect. It didn't have to be financially rational. It didn't
have to be technically viable. We were just looking for interesting ideas that would broaden
the way that you thought about the High Line in the first round.
Now, what we were doing was looking for actual teams of architects--multidisciplinary teams--that
could actually create a design that would make this amazing, but challenging environment
open to the public. And so, I think this picture really tells the story of the challenge. We
loved going up there when it was like this.
And this is one of the many site visits we did to better understand the site before we
entered into design. But what would happen is if you went up with a group like this--just
a handful of people--by the end of the visit, it was all trampled down. And this was an
environment that we wanted to open to the public, but the fact of opening it to the
public would destroy it.
So, the challenge that we gave to all of the design teams that wanted to compete was how
do you create a landscape that's reflective of this really amazing one that embodies the
power of nature to overtake monumental, man-made structure and really show the power of nature.
And so, we had 51 design teams initially submit applications.
They were all made up of teams of architects, landscape architects, security consultants,
lighting consultants, historic preservation consultants, signage people. And then, we
went down to seven teams. And then, we went down to four teams in the end that did the
most detailed proposals. So, I'll just show a few images from some of the different teams
that submitted.
This was a part of a proposal that was submitted by Zaha Hadid's team. This is the southern
end of the High Line near Gansevoort Street, where the Whitney is now under construction.
So, one of the things that all of the teams picked up on was that something was gonna
be built at that site. So, this was her proposal.
It shows--. Her environment was very swooping, white forms, not a lot of landscape. She did
have an amazing landscape architect on her team-- Diana Balmori. But landscape really
wasn't the focus of this proposal. And in one of the sessions where we were going over
it, it had an intermediate stage with the various teams.
Robert asked Zaha, "Why aren't there any trees in your proposal?" And she told Robert, "Trees
are what architects do when they don't know what to do with the space."
This is part of a proposal by Michael Van Valkenburgh, was working with Julie Bargmann
on a team called Terragram. It was a great proposal in many ways. Some of the things
that are in it are things that are reflective of choices that we ultimately decided to do.
This is a stair. That's not so different from stairs that Diller Scofidio and Renfro and
James Corner ultimately designed. This is a structure. This is Stephen Holl's team.
Stephen Holl had a really interesting history with the High Line long before Robert and
I came along. Stephen was working with another preservationist who was trying to save the
High Line back in the mid-90s--a guy named Peter Obletz.
And they worked together for a little while and then went their separate ways. But Stephen
is one of the original High Line advocates and did an earlier phase of work called "Bridge
of Houses," which became very famous. So, we were thrilled to have him competing in
the end. This is another image of his proposal.
But the team we ultimately selected was James Corner Field Operations, working with Diller
Scofidio and Renfro and the Dutch horticulturist, Pete Rudolf. And this is a rendering from
their competition entry. And it's really interesting how much it is like what we actually built.
It's fairly rare for, in a competition phase, for architects to put forth something that
doesn't get really drastically modified as the process goes along.
And to have the renderings in the competition phase actually be so close to what we actually
built is quite unusual. You can see the--. They were picked for this system that they
created, which they called "planking." The walkway system that allowed the grasses and
plants to push up through the concrete walkways very much the way that the plants used to
push up through the gravel ballast of the High Line.
And this is also from their competition board. And it showed how this system could be--was
a modular system--could be tailored to different needs in different spaces. So, in areas where
you imagined you might have a lot of people gathering, you could have more hardscape--the
planking system really going from one side of the High Line to another--very much like
it is within the Chelsea Market Passage.
And then different ways of varying the percentage of hardscape to plantings to the point where
on the far right, you have a condition where it's planted all the way from one side of
the High Line to another, which is what they call the Flyover, the Flyover condition. It
was something that we thought was just a concept that we would never do, so it was really exciting
when we actually ended up doing it in Section Two.
So, this is the High Line under construction. We did have to ultimately remove all of the
existing landscape that was up there to go down to the bare structure. We waterproof
it, redo the drainage system. Actually, the single most expensive part of the project
was repainting the structure. It had originally been painted in lead paint.
So, it had to be put in containment units and all sandblasted, primed, and repainted.
It was the single biggest part of the job. And then here you can see the rail tracks
being reinstalled. Before that rehabilitation of the structure, we removed all the tracks,
but they were all surveyed. So, whenever we put tracks back into the park, they're the
original tracks going back into their original locations.
So, I'm gonna take you just--. I'm sure most of you are pretty familiar with the landscape
of the High Line. So, I'll just take you on a very quick tour of it. This is down--. That
walk--. Oh, I'm not quite on the tour yet. This is that walkway system actually completed
and viewed from above. And the plantings, Pete Rudolf was the horticulturist that we
He was on their team. And he was selected really because his pallet of work really reflected
what was originally up on the High Line. He was known for using very naturalistic massings
of grasses and perennials that really evoked a natural-looking landscape, which you can
see in this picture here. But he added in a lot of new plant species into the mix so
that you'd have vivid displays all through the seasons.
We have things flowering up there basically from February through November. There's something
that's flowering up on the High Line. This is a section in the Chelsea Grasslands. This
is things that are flowering up there right now, the red buds. And one of the things that
Pete Rudolf specified was that in the winter, a lot of times in perennial gardens, all of
the dead plant material gets cut down before winter.
He specified that it all be left in place, partly for the health of the plants. It protects
them from freezing and thawing. But also because of the beautiful forms of this dead material
all by themselves, or when there's snow or ice on them. We also had an incredible lighting
consultant--Herve Descottes from L'Observatoire.
And one of the things they discovered in doing their night visits to the High Line, before
designing the lighting system, was that because it was so dark up there, your pupils didn't
contract. When you're on the streets in New York, you're constantly passing beneath these
very bright cones of light from the street lamps and it makes your pupils contract.
And it makes it harder to see the night sky and the buildings that are around you. And
they noticed when they were up there at night, they didn't have that condition and they could
really see the night sky and the buildings better. So, one of the things that they aimed
for in designing the lighting was to always keep it waist-level or below so it was never
shining in your eyes, but down on the walkway and the plantings.
And these are the fixtures that they designed to go into the railings and shine down onto
the plant material. And that's the lighting system as it works today. And it's one of
the things that makes evenings on the High Line such a special and magical experience
really. So, just a quick run from south to north from the High Line.
Gansevoort Plaza, where the High Line was chopped off in 1990. And it was really jagged-edged,
which the design team proposed to polish it off to use as a reveal, like a section of
how the High Line's built. And that's it completed. And then up the Gansevoort Stairs. They designed
their stairs.
They call them "slow stairs" and they were designed to extend the experience of going
from street-level to the High Line level. So, you had steps that were very gently graded
with long landings and a period in the middle where you were actually passing through the
center of the structure and able to reach out and touch the beams on the side and the
rivets that were all hammered by hand before emerging in the planted environment up above.
This is another set of those stairs coming through at 14th Street. This is the Diller
Von Furstenberg sun deck between 14th and 15th Street, looking out to the river. One
of the things that we did is we were thinking about the spaces on the High Line, was thinking
of it not only as a track to get from one place to another.
It was a linear transportation system and I think people really thought about it a lot
as a way of moving from one space to another. But we really wanted it to be a series of
social gathering spaces as well, where people stopped and inhabited the spaces and stayed
for a while. And so, that's why we designed these large chair structures at the Diller
Von Furstenberg sun deck, which have become really popular for social gathering spots.
Also why we brought in the water feature in that location. We're just about to turn it
on in about a week or so. And it's one of the things that really draws people to the
spot, kids in particular, taking off their shoes and playing in it. This is the Chelsea
Market Passage. One of the amazing things it has in that historic photo, the train going
through the building.
This is a place where trains passed through and brought loaded goods in and out of what
was the old Nabisco factory. And it's really one of the things that makes the High Line
such an unusual urban condition. You have public space, New York City, public parkland,
which goes through these donut holes in private buildings.
And it's really the only instance that you'll see of the public occupying this zone within
a private space. The same space at night. A wonderful little side walkway just north
of the Chelsea Market Passage. And this was always one of Robert's and my favorite features
in Section One--the 10th Avenue Square.
And its design evolved out of the challenge. It runs over--. This is over 10th Avenue.
And one of the things that we were gonna have to do in this location was put up a high fence
on that northern run to protect against people throwing things onto the Avenue below. And
so, we looked at a number of different design solutions of how you could get away with not
having it.
And this was one of a whole bunch of proposals of how you could actually use the structure
itself as its own eight-foot high fence. And then, it took on a life completely of its
own as a design feature--and amphitheater built within this space. And here, you can
see the incredible amount--.
It was the biggest engineering feat of the whole project, was removing the large number
of massive steel girders that made that square technically possible--taking them all out,
re-engineering the whole area so it could become a little amphitheater in there. And
there you see it completed. And it's really one of the landmark design features of the
High Line.
You can descend into the structure, watch the traffic flowing beneath you. And people
stay there for a long time and just watch the flow of traffic and the life of the city
streets below. It's really a magical place. This is the Chelsea Grasslands moving north
at the beginning of the 13th block straightaway that runs through West Chelsea, followed by
the Chelsea Thicket, a more enclosed environment.
What the design team was really looking to do in this area, because it is a straight
run that goes for 13 blocks, was thinking about different ways to create a kind of room
about every two blocks. So, the landscape is cohesive. It's the same walkway system
that's taking you through it, but the landscape is changing in subtle ways.
So, it's evolving into very different changing environments about every two blocks. This
is the lawn at 23rd Street. Very popular gathering spot. And benches that were designed to integrate
an old rail platform that used to service this warehouse building. Those bays with the
glass block used to be loading bays for trains, accepting goods on and off the High Line.
This is the Falcone Flyover between 25th Street and 27th Street. That flyover condition that
had been shown in the competition entry that we thought was really just a concept, actually
ended up getting built. And it's one of the great features of Section Two. It runs between
these two warehouses that when the High Line in its original--.
When we first started going up there, its original landscape, a forest was growing in-between
those two warehouses because it was shadier there and there was better moisture retention.
So, the plantings that are in the Flyover area are ultimately gonna recreate that forest
condition. They're gonna come up and envelop the Flyover and it'll be as if you're walking
into the canopy of the trees.
That's the Flyover viewed from above. Again, the Flyover viewed from above with the 26th
Street viewing spur. Another instance of using a feature on the High Line as a way to direct
your attention not to the High Line itself, but to the city around you--very much like
the 10th Avenue Square. And it's one of the things--. The other things I think that's
really special about the High Line as a park.
Only a small part of the experience is the zone of the park itself. A much bigger experience
is the way that you're looking at the city around you. And so, thinking about new ways
of directing a visitor's gaze and framing that gaze are a very important part of what
the design team does. That's--. And it goes both ways.
Also at the 10th Avenue Square, the view from the street up to those zones is as interesting
and compelling as it is when you're up there looking down. This is a zone coming down off
of the Flyover at 27th and 28th Street. That same zone is called Wildflower Field, a simple
straight pathway that's planted to be reminiscent of the original High Line landscape that you
saw in those Joel Sternfeld photos earlier on.
The same section at night. And then, we end at, in Section Two, at a feature called the
30th Street Cut-Out. It's the cement decking that actually held up the ballast. And the
tracks has been removed, been cut out. And this viewing platform is lifted up slightly
so you get these great views out to the Hudson River.
And it's one of the things that the design team did a lot was to, instead of really concentrating
on adding major new features, they looked at ways you could do subtractions the same
way as the 10th Avenue Square--remove something to give you a different experience within
the High Line. So, here, the decking has been removed so that you can see the girders below.
And this is an elevated shot of the way that the High Line moves through West Chelsea in
the Village. And I think this is--. This is what makes it such a special condition, that
you're snaking through the center of these blocks, looking at the city from a perspective
that you otherwise never get to see the city from. And you can see it bringing us here
up to the West Side Rail Yards.
>>Robert Hammond: So, one of the ways--. One of the reasons it's created so much value
is it's been a boom to development in the neighborhood. This is a map of over 40 different
projects that have already happened or are in the process of happening. One of the most
exciting is that the Whitney is moving downtown to the base of the High Line.
It's already under construction. This is a design by Renzo Piano. It'll be about four
or five times as big as their current space, which they are gonna be renting to the Met
Museum. And they'll be opening this in 2015. And that, the little, shorter little building
right there that's black is gonna be our headquarters.
And we're gonna open that in about, hopefully next year. And the roof will be the largest
outdoor sculpture garden for the Whitney. We talked about the 900 million dollars in
added tax revenues. And this is just some of the things that's already happened in and
around the High Line. There's two billion dollars in new construction projects, again,
in probably the worst economic times in a while.
Twelve thousand jobs. The other great thing is it's also not just regular development.
A lot of it has been really interesting. And there's a spot where you can stand here at
18th Street and see a building by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, Annabelle Selldorf,
Neil Denari. So, in addition to running through three historic--. Is it three?
>>Joshua David: Four.
>>Robert Hammond: Four historic districts, you can also see some of the best new architecture
in the city. So, when Josh and I met, one of the first things we did was start Friends
of the High Line. And that's what is still running the park now. And it's really this
public/private partnership and it was modeled after the Central Park Conservancy.
So, we're a private group. We don't work for the city that manages and operates the park
for the city. We pay for a hundred percent of all the costs of maintaining it. The city
pays for security and liability. But the gardener--that's one of our gardeners, Johnny. All the gardeners,
the maintenance workers, the people taking out the trash, are all our employees.
And they're paid for by members. If anybody wants to become a member, we love members.
Its membership starts at 70 dollars. And they're working through all different seasons. That
was not this year. [laughs] And it is really hard to remove snow because we can't use salt.
We have to do it all by hand and machine because the salt--.
The planting, the water is recycled into the planting beds. So, if you use salt, it'll
go into the plants. So, we originally thought we'd have about 300 thousand visitors a year.
That's about how many the Whitney gets in a year. So, we thought that would be a good
comparable. Last year, we had three point seven million visitors. Our busiest day was
Father's Day. It would be interesting now, I sort of wanna see a competition between
Mother's Day and Father's Day.
>>Joshua David: Mmm.
>>Robert Hammond: We hadn't opened Section Two, so maybe that's why the dads went out
last year. But just to see where the High Line lies with other institutions, we have
about almost a million more than MoMa. And this is crazy. The Travel and Leisure did
this poll of the 20 top world destinations. And I think it's a little ridiculous we're
ahead of the Acropolis, but--.
>>Joshua David: Mmm.
>>Robert Hammond: One of the things that is a fear of ours, that it becomes just for tourists.
And we want--. And we're glad tourists visit and that it's very popular, but we really
want it mainly to be for New Yorkers. So, we do over 300 free programs throughout the
year. And almost all of them are geared towards locals.
A lot of them are kids-oriented. This is a Step Festival we started last year where kids
compete from all five boroughs. We're gonna be doing it again in June. We do a lot of
kid's programming. This is in that 10th Avenue Square where we used as an amphitheater. Every--.
Throughout the summer, every Wednesdays and Saturdays, we have something called Children's
Play, where they can build their own High Line-esque structures.
We do a lot of musical performances. We have salsa. We're gonna have salsa dancing every
Thursday night once a month throughout the summer. And we have stargazing every Thursday
night from now until the fall. You just go up there and there's astronomers up there
that will bring up their telescopes [Joshua David coughs] for you to look at.
And I didn't even know you could see any stars in New York, but you can actually see the
rings of Saturn. This is sort of an unfortunate slide because you know one of the most famous
things about the High Line is watching people have sex in the standard windows. It's more
of an urban myth than a reality. But that's not what--. When you see the people with telescopes,
that's not what they're there for.
Yeah, this is one picture of that. One of the other things we do to keep, for locals,
and a reason to keep coming back is art, is public art on the High Line. This is a work
by Spencer Finch. And almost all of it is temporary.
So, it changes. So, if you go up there right now, about 21st Street, this is a work by
Sara Zee. It's actually going away in June. So, it's always changing. At any one time,
there's about five or six different projects up there. This is where we--. The developer
had given up this billboard. This is that Joel Sternfeld photo.
These are all different artworks. This was a John Baldessari piece we put up in the spirit
of Christmas in December, which was a hundred thousand dollar bill, which was an actual
legal tender that banks use between themselves to transfer money. And he blew it up the size
of a billboard. So, the High Line's also not done.
We have some great art. And we have some great performances coming up on Earth Day. There's
a woman named Alison Spear, who's doing this thing called "Make a Salad," where she had
this work in the '60s where she'd throw lettuce off a building and onto a tarp. And then throw
tomatoes and salad dressing. And everyone does the tarp up and down. And then, she serves
the salad. We're gonna do it off the High Line on Earth Day.
>>Joshua David: Free salad for a thousand people.
>>Robert Hammond: Yes. So we're not done. There's the last section of the High Line,
which is this part right here. And it runs around the rail yards. This is the last, largest
undeveloped site in Manhattan. Here's where the Olympic Stadium was originally gonna go
here when New York was competing against London, which won.
And it was gonna be the Jets Stadium as well. It's the most beautiful part of the High Line.
Most of Joel's photographs were taken there. You get great Hudson River views. This was--.
That's the Jets Stadium that was defeated by the community. But now, it's gonna be developed
for mixed-use of retail, commercial, and residential by the related companies.
So, it's gonna be 12 million square feet. So, that's like downtown Seattle times two
all squeezed into these two sites with the High Line running all the way around it. And
at first, they actually wanted to tear--. Some people wanted to tear down the High Line
because they thought it would be easier to develop if it was just an open site.
But we've won that battle. And the city's been really supportive. And everyone's agreed
to keep all of the High Line. And our goal right now is to try to fully build-out this
portion of the High Line in blue. And then this green part, to do a temporary walkway
that could last for five or ten years, that would get us all the way to 34th Street by
And that's, it would be all the way to where the Javits Center is. And there's gonna be
a new Number Seven subway--the first new subway in Manhattan--I think in 75 years. It's gonna
open up around then, too. I'm gonna skip. I think we have some just--. I wanted to show
some of the slides of--. Oh, no. We don't have them in here.
I don't know. Can you--? Can you go back? Oh, sorry. [laughs] But what I wanted to show,
and I guess we didn't include them in here, is some of the new slides for Section Three.
So, we've just released the designs of the final section. You can find them on our website
that are all there. And that's where we're--. We're still working on those and that's why
we've had so far, two community input sessions on those designs. So, people still have a
chance to shape--.
>>Joshua David: Yeah, at the end.
>>Robert Hammond: what's happening there. And I also wanna end on this. This is my favorite
programming that we didn't even plan. So, when we opened Section One in 2009, we misdirected
one of the lights that was supposed to shine on the stairs. And it shone in this woman's
bedroom. And she called to complain and we didn't do anything 'cause we were busy.
But she, like a good New Yorker, made the best of the situation. And she had a friend
who was a cabaret singer, would go out on her fire escape and serenade the High Line,
people on the High Line. She named it the Renegade Cabaret. It lasted for several months
until her landlord told her she couldn't go out on her fire escape anymore unless there's
a fire.
So, but to me, what I like is it's just a symbol how New Yorkers can respond to different
things. The High Line itself was an accident. It was meant to be a loaded freight line that
fell into disuse mostly in the '90s. And the last train was in 1980. So, it was an accidental
park and so the kind of programming that comes around accidentally is to me what's, I think,
most interesting about the High Line.
So, I think we have a few minutes to answer questions. I guess I have a question for y’all.
Last time I came and spoke, everyone was on their laptop working. I don't know. Is that
a new culture that y’all do it? I mean, it's nice that y’all are actually looking
at us, but I can't imagine that we've gotten much better at speaking. But--.
>>male #2: You spoke about how one of those things that's going up near the undeveloped
space is gonna last for just ten years. Why is that? Why not longer?
>>Robert Hammond: Yeah. So, we wanna open--. We don't have enough money, basically, to
build the whole High Line out. It would cost about a hundred million dollars to build the
full walkway. And so, we only have about half that. So, we're gonna build half of it fully
and then put a temporary walkway.
Some people said, "Well, why can't you just keep the temporary walkway permanently?" 'Cause
that's sort of an interesting condition. But ultimately, we have to go through and remediate
the space. So, we have to go in and do the lead paint remediation Josh talked about.
And we have to go in and remove all of the, put in new waterproofing.
So, it'll last five to ten years and then, we would build-out it to a permanent level.
So, the idea is the walkway would be finished after that.
>>male #3: So, I think I might have been there that Father's Day.
[Robert Hammond laughs]
It was really crowded.
>>Robert Hammond: Yeah.
>>male #3: I mean, it's of course gonna get more crowded. So, what's the plan to somehow
deal with that? I mean, it's great that there's a lot of people, but as it gets more crowded,
you can enjoy less of it, right?
>>Joshua David: I think it is one of the real challenges that we're looking at right now
and looking at different ways that we can address it. One of the things that--. The
easiest way to deal with it is people who are in the neighborhood or here every day,
is to think about the majority of times it's not crowded.
There are lots of many beautiful times of day to go--early in the morning, late in the
evening, during the week almost all the time is manageable. There are two very crowded
times, which are Saturday from 11:30 to about 5:30, and Sunday from 11:30 to about 5:30.
So, those are times that as people who live and/or work in the neighborhood, you have
the opportunity to take advantage of times when it's not so crowded.
And we are looking at those more crowded times. We're just about to start a new strategic
planning process. And one of their group of central questions that we're asking ourselves
as an organization and that's one of them. How do you handle that issue? Because it's
not the experience that we created the High Line to have.
It's great to be popular. It's great to be loved. But that's really challenging. We did
experiment when we opened Section One and a little bit when we opened Section Two. When
we know there are gonna be very intense crowds, based on something dramatic happening, like
the opening. We actually did have to regulate the number of people who came in.
And so, at those times, entrance points got closed and you could only enter at one point.
And there was a line. And that is a way that you can regulate it. It's very labor-intensive,
very expensive, and people don't like it. So, you have a whole bunch of negatives associated
with that system. So, I don't think--. That's not the answer, but we are looking to further
>>Robert Hammond: One of the dilemmas is also, when we were thinking about Section Three,
one of the answers is you can make the path wider so there's more room. But the problem
is, that takes away from the planting. I mean, with Section Two, we actually had, the path
is narrower. So, you have more planting to path.
So, it feels more crowded, but for most people, we hear they like it more because there's
more plantings. So, there's the dilemma. It's like highways. Do you add another highway?
But then, you'd just get more people. So, it's one of the things of trying to find that
right balance.
>>male #4: How did you, or how do you, plan for very large plants that wanna get even
larger? Like a tree that wants to grow 60 feet, who's roots can only go down so far.
>>Joshua David: Most of the trees have been selected to be moderate in size and to have
root systems that deal with the very confined nature of the High Line. One of the things
when we planted it and opened it, we really didn't know these plants were gonna do. It's
a very forbidding condition. There's only about that much soil there.
It's about 14 inches of soil. And so for trees, that's an extra challenging situation. Where
there are a lot of trees, we've done some subtle additions to the way the planting beds
are designed to allow for more soil depth. You see this down at the very southern end
of the High Line--what we call the Gansevoort Woodlands, where there's a very dense grouping
of trees.
We've added a COR-TEN steel edge to the planting bed, which gives us another two feet or so
of soil so that we can have all of those trees there. Those are also--. Now, the whole High
Line has an irrigation system, but in the beginning, it was designed just to have irrigation
where the trees were. So, they were given special watering systems as well.
And I think over time, eventually, the root systems will get too big on some of the trees
and they'll have to be replaced, as happens in a lot of parks that have trees growing
in planters or confined areas.
>>Robert Hammond: And one other thing. The planting depth is the average planting depth
is about 13 inches. So, that's one of the amazing things that's actually worked. And
you're basically on a bridge. So, it heats from below and above. And it's amazing that
We were worried with all these plants that they'd survive. But a lot of them were selected
about, I think a quarter of them were actually plants that were already growing up there.
So, we knew that they could thrive in that kind of environment.
>>Joshua David: And the, what was up there to begin with before we started, it was gravel.
There was not even any dirt in it. So, it really, it has always shown remarkable resiliency
of nature to grow and vary in inhospitable conditions. And I think it's continuing to
do that now.
>>male #5: I'm just curious. With so many stakeholders with vested interests in the
various stages of your proposal, whether it was the design competition, or whether it
was probably the transfer of property rights, I was wondering who had ultimate decision-making
authority. If it was the two of you, I'm wondering how you were able to achieve that given--.
You guys weren't subject matter experts in design. You're not architects. You're not
urban planners. So, was it just that you were the first two of the most enthusiastic and
so it gave you that right?
>>Joshua David: Ultimately, it's a city project. So, when we were designing and building, it's
ultimately the decisions all go up to the city. That said, it's been a remarkable partnership
between us and the Bloomberg Administration.
I think what was interesting was at the very beginning, when the Bloomberg Administration
decided it wanted to do the High Line, they were buying into an idea that they didn't
know very much about and we knew a lot about. So, they welcomed us into a partnership that
was very productive because we had, at that point, we'd assembled some expertise on it.
And the design team selection process was, I think, a really unusual and interesting
example of the city and a non-profit working collaboratively together around a table with
basically the same number of people on each side. We always acknowledged that ultimately,
the city had the call on anything that was gonna happen up there.
But they gave us a very wide degree of discretion in directing how the design was gonna go.
And so, I think it's been a really amazing partnership. There is also one element of
the project that goes up to the federal government level. We're what's called a rail banked park,
or a rail banked trail. There are different ways that railroads can be reused as trails
or park land.
And rail banking is one sector of that. It's essentially a program that was created by
the government to allow rail carders that go over private property to be maintained
and used for other uses without losing their, without the easement going poof into the air.
So, that all had to go through a federal approval process.
>>Robert Hammond: I mean, the other thing is money.
We were raising private money, so that's also what gave us a place at the table on important
design decisions. And still gives us the role to be able to run it because we're raising
private money to help supplement what would otherwise have to be paid for by the public.
>>male #6: I noticed a change with the lighting in the Chelsea Market Pass Through. Initially,
it was blue at night. And it had two sets of fluorescent tubes, one blue and one white
for, I think, day. And it looked like it started running both of those tubes at night to make
it more brighter and also purple. Is that true or can you tell us the story why that
>>Robert Hammond: Yeah. So, I mean, there's a lot of back history of the lighting in Chelsea
Market. One, we insisted on having it dimmer, which the Parks Department was like, "Why
does a park need a dimmer?" And I'm saying it was very important.
>>Joshua David: Mm-hmm.
>>Robert Hammond: But that was to try to create--. If you just do the white light, it can be
very harsh. And so, if you do the white and the white and blue light, it creates a warmer
light when you're in there. It's more flattering as well. But the artist, during the day, doesn't
like--. There's the art piece on the wall. Doesn't like how it looks with the blue light.
So, we try to use the light as little as possible. And the blue light mainly just on certain
occasions. On the 14th Street passage, we use both. But it's really intended--. You
can do blue or white, but it's really intended to have them both on at the same time in the
>>male #6: That was one of my favorite things, was just the blue light only at night. I mean,
in the day, you can do different things, but I thought that was cool.
>>Robert Hammond: Yeah. The lighting is done by a guy named Herve Descottes from L'Observatoire
who came up with that.
>>male moderator: I think we have time for one more question.
>>male #7: So, congrats. It's an amazing achievement. The Meatpacking District is unrecognizable
today, right? And so, some of it was not dependent on your contribution, but you've actually
accelerated the development of this neighborhood. Did you do anything to try to protect some
of the historical establishments and businesses in the area? 'Cause for example, you can see
the Whitney sitting on top of all the Meatpacking District locations, right?
>>Robert Hammond: I mean, I think the High Line gets too much credit and too much blame
in some ways. [laughs] I mean, the Meatpacking was changing gangbusters way before we opened
in 2009. Florent had left before we opened. I mean, I think the die was already set for
But one of the great things that actually Florent accomplished around the same time
we were getting started was making this an historic district. So, what that means is
one, you can't change a lot of the height, the character, like the steel awnings. The
other thing that the neighborhood fought and won for was not having residential.
And that's partly why it's such an entertainment zone for bars and clubs and restaurants. But
it's also helped keep the character of the buildings and not having them be all residential.
In certain ways, we don't have a lot of control. We have control of what happens to the High
Line, but on what happens outside of it is a little bit out of our control.
We can help certain people and work. The good news about the Meat Market, the building--.
As part of the Whitney going in, the city signed a long-term lease with the remaining
Meat Market vendors that are still there. So, they'll be there for another at least
another 20 years.
>>male #7: Thanks.
>>Joshua David: Great. Well, thank you.