A High Line For Me, Not You,

published at 12:08pm on 08/31/12

“If you’re tired of a High Line that is full of tourists then stop acting like a fucking tourist.”

This is what I thought the other night as I was strolling down the High Line at 10pm on a Monday night after taking a walk through Chelsea because I realized that I hadn’t left the house all day1.

It was my father who had originally sent me the op-ed about the High Line with the comment “what did this guy expect-that the high line was built just for his personal enjoyment. probably, which is why he’s so bitter now.2” I wasn’t really on board with that assessment. While I am a beneficiary of much of the gentrification in this city (I moved here in the late 90s, post-graffiti, post-crime), I certainly appreciate that many of the reasons that people move here in the first place (the art, the culture, and that fact that all of these things are integrated into the fabric of the city instead of tucked away in some little art ghetto) are quickly moving away.

This stems from two sources: first, the city government is promoting development at any cost to anyone with a backhoe and blueprints, and second, because these things just happen in cycles. Things are pretty great in New York City right now, and in Manhattan in particular. This means that people, and more importantly businesses, are going to want to move here. And those businesses are not going to be manufacturing businesses, and those people are mostly going to have money. You’re just not going to see a lot of small belt makers and auto body shops because that’s not really how people live any more, in this city or in this country. The way to really stem the tide of big box stores is to encourage people to go shopping at their local mom-and-pop, and to pay more and to support the fabric of their community. But, you know, good luck with that.

But that’s not even the thing that bugged me so much about the op-ed. The thing that really annoyed me was this notion that the High Line is now merely a tourist trap, “another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners.”

As the High Line’s hype grew, the tourists came clamoring. Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.


Of course, this is accurate. If you go to the High Line on a beautiful weekend afternoon, you will fear for your life. But honestly, what kind of New Yorker are you that you’re just going somewhere whenever everyone else is going there? No, a real New Yorker will seek out those moments when this city peels back its exterior (gritty, shiny, whatever phase it happens to be going through at the time) and reveals just a little bit of itself just to you. As I walked along the High Line from 18th Street down to its start at Gansevoort, I stopped at one of the wide wooden recliners that line the middle of that path. And as I sat there, looking at the stars through the clouds, I watched a couple take off their shoes and shuffle their feet through the water feature that was built into the pathway. She stamped her feet and splashed water onto both of their legs and they both laughed. I watched the family, most likely tourists from another part of the city, walking along quietly. And I sat, watching absolutely nothing. Minutes, five, ten at a time would pass and nobody would walk past. Two friends were about to walk by when one stopped and suggested that they stop and sit on the recliner next to mine. Separated by trees and tall grass, they completed disappeared from view when they sat.

To live in New York is to be constantly bombarded by every possible kind of stimulation at every possible moment of the day. Or rather, it can be. To truly live in New York is to find your own pace, to understand that you can not possibly experience every facet of the city, ever, and to pick and choose those things that make you happy. I too fear a city that is built only for tourists, but at the end of the day, only those of us who can learn to navigate the insanity of daily life here are going to stay and call it home.

1. So actually, it was my Fuel Band that reminded me that I was only a quarter of the way to my already woefully low daily goal, and that if I didn’t leave the house a) I would feel really, really bad about myself and b) I would be losing the nearly two-month streak that I was on. Say what you will about the Quantified Self movement, but anything that is going to remind me to get up and move my butt is probably a good thing. The numbers, at least the way I’m using it, don’t really mean too much to me. A friend of mine recently told me that I needed to set a much higher goal, but I realized that I wasn’t wearing the band for him, I was wearing it for me, and if having this little band of rubber and circuits on my wrist was going to get me up and walking around more, then that was plenty. I didn’t have anything to prove to him (or the rest of my social graph, for that matter, so forget you, Facebook connect).

2. My father often writes emails like this, often sans punctuation or capitalization. It’s quite nice, actually. It’s like I have a constant portal open to his consciousness all day through my inbox.

Filed under: Personal

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