London and High Line thinking

New York’s High Line is but one, high profile, example of a trend for cities to reclaim ex-industrial spaces for recreation and contemplation. What should London’s approach be?

This blog has been quiet lately, mostly because I’ve been on a family break to snowy New York City. We did a lot of standard visitor stuff – museums, the Top of the Rock, the Staten Island ferry – and also walked the High Line, the elevated former west Manhattan railway track that has been transformed into a linear park.

The High Line has attracted great acclaim but also a degree of scorn. It interests me because of what such projects might do for big city life, including London’s. By way of introduction, here’s a short film about the High Line presented by Time Magazine’s art and architecture critic, Richard Lacayo.

So who’s for it, who’s against and why? The High Line certainly seems popular. Plenty of people were using it the day my family and I went, even though the day was viciously cold. During the summer, I’m told, it can become a pedestrian traffic jam. One thing it certainly provides is a scarce opportunity to walk a solid distance in Manhattan (and I did a lot of walking there) without having to stop for lots and lots of cars.

Yet it has been claimed that, straddled by a “stylish boutique hotel,” the High Line represents “decadence at its purest.” Owen Hatherley, in a measured recent piece on the transformation of ex-industrial spaces into leafier ones, warns that such reclamation projects don’t necessarily herald a wider “greening” of cities.

So what should London’s attitude to this type of thing be? Should we embrace the concept or look askance? Take note that a gigantic example of reclaiming industrial territory and turning it into park land – one not unconnected with the Olympics – has been underway in the east of our city for quite some time, and High Line designer James Corner has been putting his mark on part of it. Your wise comments, as ever, are welcome. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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