We the people - Joshua David and Robert Hammond at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 26.09.2011

So I'm going to give a brief overview of the history of the High Line. And then we're going
to talk about how we went from this what was maybe sort of a crazy dream into reality.
So the High Line runs or used to run right down the middle of Manhattan right down 10th
Avenue. And it was don't as "Death Avenue" because so many people were run over by the
trains that the railroad hired a guy on horseback to run in front of the trains. And he was
known as "the west side cowboy." But, still, about one person a month was killed. So they
elevated it. And they cut it right down through the middle of the block. And it was -- it
was finished in 1934. And it went right through buildings. As I was just talking about, it
served, brought in a lot of food. It was nicknamed "The Lifeline of New York," because a lot
of these warehouses were refrigerated warehouses that served the meat market. But, with the
rise of interstate trucking, it was used less and less. And it was abandoned -- the last
train was a train load of frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving in 1980. And then it was unused.
And this wild scape started taking over. And I -- I live in the West Village and first
saw it from the street. And I fell in love with that steel structure from below. And
then, when Josh and I first went on top, there was -- there's a steel structure. But then
there was a mile and a half of wildflowers right in the middle of Manhattan. And that's
what we really began to fall in love with. >>Joshua David: So Robert and I met at a community
board meeting in 1989. And we just happened to sit next to each other. We didn't know
each other. We were at that meeting because we'd read in the newspaper that the High Line
was going to be torn down. And it ran through our neighborhood, and it connected 22 blocks
and ran for a mile and a half and connected three neighborhoods. And we thought you could
probably do something really amazing with it. But nobody else was really thinking along
those lines. Everybody at that meeting was in favor of tearing it down.
So we exchanged business cards. And we met up a few days later and started an organization
to try and save the High Line, very reluctantly at first because we realized what a big task
it was going to be. From the beginning we made a commitment to
good design. This is the logo that Paula Scher at Pentagram made for us very early on in
1989. We were just two guys, self-employed, working out of our home offices with none
of the skills that you need to do something like this. We weren't architects. We weren't
preservationists. We had no political experience. But the quality of our logo and the other
graphic materials that we produced gave people confidence in our fledgling organization and
also signaled that, if they supported us and we could one day build something on the High
Line, that it would be beautifully designed. One of our other challenges was nobody could
see what was up there. From down on the street you couldn't see this incredible landscape
up on top. So we found a terrific American photographer, Joel Sternfeld, who went up
there. He fell in love with the place, too. And he spent over a year photographing. And
these amazing photographs became a real key part of our advocacy.
Mayor Giuliani's administration wanted to tear the High Line down. And so we had to
challenge that policy in court. And that meant raising money for legal fees, which we did
in the beginning primarily through events. This is one of our earlier events. It happened
to be on Bastille day. This is a famous restaurateur from the Meatpacking District, Florent, who
came to our party dressed as Marie Antoinette with a High Line theme. There's trains running
around his waist and around his wig. A lot of people, when they come to us and
ask what they should do when starting organizations that are doing similar kinds of projects to
ours, we always tell them start fundraising as soon as you possibly can. Not only for
the resources that fundraising brings to you, but it creates a strong organization and greatly
increases the sense of connectivity that your supporters feel for the project.
A different kind of community formed around the High Line from a very early point, then
formed a lot of other preservation groups in New York City. It was younger. I think
a lot of it stems from the fact that a lot of preservation projects are about stopping
something, stopping a building from being torn down or stopping a development that people
don't like. We were trying to stop demolition. But, really,
the larger project was a positive creative vision. And that drew in a lot of artists
and architects and designers. There was also a much larger gay following in this project
than in some others, because Robert and I are both gay and brought in all of our friends.
>>Robert Hammond: We didn't mean to put this slide up next.
[ Laughter ] >>Robert Hammond: But it's no coincidence
it was one of our favorites. So we started gaining some traction on the project. A few
people, more people started hearing about it. But in the city and across the country
no one knew what the High Line was. So we did an ideas competition. And this wasn't
a design competition. We didn't really have the right to build anything. So it was really
to create different ways of thinking about what you would do with this rusty railroad
with weeds growing up on top of it. This was one of my favorites. It was a mile-long
lap pool that would run through the city. And, again, this was just helping people think
about, wow, there's other things you could do with this than just run trains back up
there. Another one was a leave that beautiful pristine
landscape alone and then put an urban rollercoaster that would go right through the city.
And we had the exhibition of all the entries. We had, I think, 720 entries from 36 countries.
It was one of the first competitions that was done online. And this is where we started
building this sort of international following for this project. But the reason we wanted
to do the exhibition at Grand Central is so that people wouldn't think about this just
as a local project, that it could have an impact beyond just the neighborhood it ran
through. So, you know, Giuliani signed the demolition
order two days before he left office. Bloomberg came in office and was much more supportive.
But 9/11 happened. We had economic tough times. He didn't really care about the pretty pictures
of Joel Sternfeld's pictures of the High Line. We had to prove it had made economic sense.
So we commissioned an economic feasibility study to show that -- we thought at the time
it would cost about 100 million to build. And we said, okay, over a 20-year time period,
the economic benefits to the city based on increased property tax revenues would be about
250 million. It turns out we got both of those numbers
wrong. It's cost so far about 150 million to build. But we've just updated the study
and the benefits to the city now are looking to be just under shy of about $1 billion.
So it's turned out to be a good investment. [ Applause ]
>>Robert Hammond: So that helped get -- you know, at first it was just a community -- that's
the other thing we say. It's great to fight, you know, the powers that be. But at some
point if you want to do a big project, it has to be a public/private partnership. We
partnered with Bloomberg, Senator Clinton, Schumer, Christine Quinn. And that's where
this became this public/private partnership. And I love this photo because they're managing
not to look at each other. I think it's something that politicians learn.
[ Laughter ] >>Robert Hammond: I don't know, but -- so
then we had gotten the community on board. We'd gotten the elected officials on board.
But the property owners were still fighting to tear it down. The railroad owned the structure,
but the property owners owned property underneath it. So they still wanted to tear it down.
So we partnered with the city planning commissioner, Amanda Burden and the mayor's office to do
something that they had done first to save Grand Central several decades before, which
is called the transfer of development rights. Normally, you can only transfer to a property
next door to you. This allows you to transfer anywhere in the
neighborhood. And, when that passed, that sort of was the next hurdle in getting support
for the project. >>Joshua David: So with the city on board
it was not about design ideas any more. But we had to create a real design for the High
Line. We did another competition, this one in partnership with the city.
And the central challenge of it was there was a landscape we loved up there. And we
wanted to open it up to the public. And you could bring small groups up there, like the
group in the picture, occasionally and still that landscape could live. But, if you opened
it up to the public on a regular basis, it would be trampled and destroyed.
So the challenge that we gave to all the competitors in the competition was how do you create a
landscape that refers back to what was so compelling about the original condition and
still allows public access. So the team that won, James Corner Field Operations
-- they're landscape architects -- Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who are architects; and
the Dutch horticulturist, Piet Oudolf, won with a proposal to create an entirely new
walkway system made out of cement planks that break apart at their edges and allow the plant
material to come up through the cracks in the planks very much the way that the original
self-seeded landscape on the High Line came up through the gravel ballast.
You can see that under construction here with the rail tracks being reinstalled after we
rehabilitated the structure and the planked walkway system being installed.
I'm going to take you just on a very brief tour of a few of the highlights as you go
up the High Line. And starting with a rendering, because a lot of architects who followed our
project were really amazed that the -- when we constructed the project, it looked so much
like the renderings. Here you see the end of the High Line that we'd just seen rendered
previously. This is viewed from above. You can see how
the landscape actually pushes up through the concrete pathways creating a seamless, cohesive
environment. One of the things that we wanted was not two different zones of walkway and
landscape but having the walkway and the landscape integrated into a single and cohesive place.
A lot of attention was paid to making it a social place, not just a linear path that
you walk through. So we paid extra attention to how gathering areas were designed and how
seating areas were designed to really foster a lot of social interaction and vibrancy along
the line. Part of this was a water feature. This is
in the same area where you just saw those benches. And we wanted water because it's
a very soothing sound and it's cooling in summer. But we were very spatially constrained.
There's not a lot of room up on the High Line. So this was a system, by just having the water
skim across the walkway, you don't lose any occupiable space. You can still walk around
it barefoot. One of things that was always most interesting
about the High Line when it had trains running in it was the trains ran through the buildings.
And it remains one of the most interesting things now that it's a public park. You have
this very unusual dynamic of the public realm going through these holes of privately controlled
property. And inside the shell of this private building is this public space.
In this case it's an old Nabisco factory building where they used to make Oreo cookies and Uneeda
biscuits. It's now called Chelsea Market. And it's where Google has a large part of
its New York offices. One of the architects on the team said it
was his job to save the High Line from architecture. By that he meant he wanted to avoid adding
a lot of additional structures to the High Line. Instead, they concentrated on cuts and
removals and reveals. So This is a place called the 10th Avenue
Square where whole massive steel girders were pulled out to allow visitors to descend into
the infrastructure where they can view the street below through this glass wall. And
there you can see the -- that from another angle. It really turns the street below into
a theater when viewed from above. And, if you're standing down on the street, the people
up in the 10th Avenue Square are as if they're on a stage.
There's a long stretch that's very linear and continuous in a straight line. So the
design team has created a lot of varied planting conditions along that straight line starting
with low lying grasses and perennials in the Chelsea grasslands. Moving to much denser
highly planted areas in the Chelsea thicket. Moving to the High Line's only lawn at 23rd
Street and up to a place called the Falcone Flyover, which is an elevated structure on
top of an elevated structure that takes you up into the canopy of trees.
This photo shows you the really unique relationship of the High Line to the city around it going
through the center of city blocks as it makes its way through the West Village up through
Chelsea to the west side rail yards. >>Robert Hammond: So, when we first started
thinking about when we were going to open the High Line, we thought we'd maybe have
about 300,000 people a year. And now we get 300,000 people a year -- I mean, we get 300,000
people every two week, basically. We already had 2 million people this summer. I'll tell
you a secret, if you all want to know when to come. Come at night or on the weekdays.
For some reason tourists love to come in the middle of the day when it's really hot on
Saturday and Sunday. So it's been great for the economic development.
But it's also encouraged a lot of great architecture in the neighborhood, not just on the High
Line. This is a rendering of the new Whitney Museum, which is coming to the base the High
Line. They're moving from their building on Madison Avenue this to this new -- it's going
to be about three times as big as their current space. And Renzo Piano has designed it. They
just broke ground this last spring. And there's a spot where you can stand at
18th Street where you can see buildings by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Neil Denari, Shigeru
Ban. So it's become sort of this architect's row to see a lot of historic buildings and
a lot of great new architecture. And another thing that's a little different
about the High Line is that it's not maintained by the city. So Friends of the High Line,
the group that Josh and I sort of started by exchanging business cards, now manages
the line for the city through a license agreement. So we pay all of the costs of managing and
operating it. All the gardeners, all the maintenance workers, the bathroom attendants. This was
not our -- we didn't pioneer that. It was really done by the Central Park Conservancy,
but we followed that model of how the High Line is maintained.
Now, we love that a lot of tourists come to the High Line. But for -- first and foremost,
we want it to be for New Yorkers. I'm from San Antonio. And people say oh, do you want
it to be like the river walk? We say, well, you know, that's just tourists. We really
want this to be for locals. So we devote -- almost all the programming we do -- we have about
300 free programs throughout the year for locals in the neighborhood and in the city.
This is a step festival we did in the beginning of the summer. We do a lot of programs for
families and kids throughout the year. We also do focus a lot on art. The High Line
runs right through the heart of the art gallery district. That's sort of an insular -- you
know, when you go to art galleries, you don't know which one or if you're even really wanted
there. So we try to bring art out into the public. Whenever you go up there -- this is
a stained glass window piece that we've installed in the Chelsea Market space. And there's always
about five to six different public art works that you'll find as you're walking along the
line. The High Line is not done. We still have the
last section, which I think is the most beautiful, that shot Josh showed, the Joel Sternfeld
shot is taken from here. It's the part that runs around the rail yard. This is the last
large, really, undeveloped spot in Manhattan. And it's still owned by the railroad. And
that's what we're focusing a lot of our efforts on is to get ownership of this and to open
this as soon as possible to the public. Right now, if you go to this area, it ends right
at 34th Street at the bottom there. That's the Javits Center, the convention center.
Maybe you've all been. It's not a great neighborhood right now. It's a little forlorn. You get
there, you maybe want to leave. That's going to change. This is where the Jets stadium
was going to go at one point. Now it's zoned for 11 million square feet of new development.
So, to give you an idea, that's like downtown Seattle times two. It's going to be owned
by related companies -- residential, retail, and commercial. And so that's why we feel
the High Line is so important, because it's going to be the only historical connection
to this new part of the city. >>Joshua David: Robert talked a little about
some of the programs and activities we've planned for the High Line. A lot of things
happen on the High Line that are unplanned. This is one of them. This a woman named Patty
Hefley, who, right when we opened the first section of the High Line in 2009, one of our
security lights wasn't pointed the right way. And it pointed over at her fire escape. And
at first she yelled and screamed at us a lot every time we walked by. And then she realized
it was creating a stage out of her fire escape. And there was this constant audience of people
going by on the High Line. So she started taking advantage of that and curating these
performances, mostly torch song singers. And she called it "the High Line Renegade Cabaret."
And it got to be really popular. And for many people who came to the High Line during our
first season, the favorite thing about the High Line was Patty and the Renegade Cabaret.
We wanted to end on this slide, because it shows two different things, one of which is
a lot of parks are designed to be refuges from the city or escapes from the city. And
the High Line is very different from that. It's a very narrow park. And the things that
are happening around it on buildings, on rooftops are as much a part of the park experience
as being in the park itself. And, secondly, you -- we've planned a lot
of things. We've told you about a lot of the plans that we made to make this possible.
But you can't plan everything. And a lot of times the unplanned things are the best things.
We have over -- you know, tens of thousands of people coming to the High Line on a daily
basis and then multiple thousands more interacting with it from rooftops and windows and balconies.
And it's what all these people bring to it, the social interaction, and vibrancy that
they bring to the experience of the High Line that make it such a special place. It's really
all of these people who bring the High Line to life. Thank you.
[ Applause ]