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The Image of Public Space: The High Line

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Is the High Line public space?

What constitutes public space?

How is perceived? How is it conceived?

How will this project change / develop in the future?


Interested (27)
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To those still interested in The Image of Public Space: The High Line, please see the comment above regarding the second session of Democracy + Public Space. The class will address similar content, so all interested in the High Line are encouraged to attend. It should be an excellent discussion.

The class will be held this Thursday, May 6, 7:15 pm @ 177 Livingston.
Please see (
for additional information.

A class addressing the High Line has been scheduled as part of the series on Democracy + Public Space. Please find relevant information below, or see the description here:

Democracy and Public Space: Session 2 | The High Line and the High Bridge
Thursday, May 6, 7:15pm, at 177 Livingston

Together, we will explore how contemporary public spaces in New York City are planned, managed, and used by considering two case studies: the High Line and the High Bridge, which spans the Harlem River to connect the Bronx to Washington Heights. We will compare these two parks in terms of funding, access, security, usership, design, and programming, and use them to identify different models for facilitating community ownership of neighborhood open spaces and consider the question of how public these public spaces really are.

This session will be taught by Hillary Angelo, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at New York University, pursuing research interests in public space, urban nature, and civic participation, and Kate Louis, formerly of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Through the NYCDP&R, Hillary and Kate worked together on projects to improve public spaces through a participatory design approach that engages under-served populations, especially youth and new immigrants.

Martin Filler, "Up in the Park", New York Review of Books, Aug 13, 2009
Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Right to Public Space (2003) ; specific chapters TBA soon.

For all those still interested in a class on public space, please see the recently added proposal "Democracy and Public Space," which is currently being organized.

I'm inclined to agree with D.A.N. (maria...): that the High Line is not truly a public space because it is so highly delimited and has such controlled access. I would be very interested in a discussion that seeks to develop a working definition of a "public space."

ovalle's picture

Jaime's comment about public plazas reminded me of the documentary that was done by William H Whyte in 1980 called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The study focused primarily on Mies' design of the plaza at the Seagram Building in addition to other small urban spaces in New York. I'm sure as many of you know, Mies never intended the plaza to become a public gathering space. However, the success of the design of the plaza influenced the re-visioning of the NYC Zoning resolution, encouraging or rather offering developers incentives to implement privately owned public space. Of course, as Maria mentioned, its very difficult to convince a developer now days to hand over prime real estate to public space.

It would be informative to study open spaces that were never intentionally designed for public use or gathering , but were flexible and inclusive enough for users to see the potential of these spaces. In other words how does one recognize and create place making. What's fascinating about open space especially in dense urban environments like New York, is the ability for its inhabitants to play a key role in how open space and public space are defined and used. It would be refreshing to focus on discussions that reveal the opportunities of unintentionally designed public spaces.

Although its dated, I highly recommend seeing the documentary mentioned above:

I'm still interested.

Wallas's picture

hey, the course title changed.
is everyone still interested?
who's teaching this?

maria ibanez de sendadiano's picture

We should try to focus these two very broad topics into a manageable scope for a single class meeting. In general, these classes will meet only once. Some are being conceived as two part classes, some with an "in the field" component, some with practical applications. The Atlantic Yards site as a possible design component may overwhelm. Perhaps one of the so-called "pocket parks" would be more appropriate.

That said, the issue of ownership interests me a great deal as it relates to public space. With ownership comes control (of access, of use), but also financial responsibility.

jgmoore's picture

Exactly, there would be a general overview/history of public space and "urban design" projects (from Central Park to Rockefeller Center to Christo's Gates, etc.) and then the bulk of the course would use case studies that explore a range of types of public spaces, with a gradient form most private to most public, from small to large, inexpensive to costly, short-term to long-term, etc. The details Jamie mentioned in the comments below would be a key part of the discussion. Ideally the course would include a concept design proposal as part of the work... I was thinking maybe do the public space proposed in front of the New Barclay's Arena (Atlantic Yards)... what will eventually one of these significant public/private spaces in the city.

building on the above comments, one way to focus the case studies could be through the lens of "privately owned public spaces" - a sort of sweeping term that hides the fact that there are countless financial models for the actual operation, management and upkeep of urban public spaces in nyc. park trusts and conservancies are the most obvious (battery park, hudson river park, bryant park, central park) but public plazas created by zoning/development deals are worth a look, too ('elevated acre' at 55 water street, harmony atrium at lincoln center).

if this class goes the high profile governors island / highline / fresh kills route, then i'd be interested in talking about the (seemingly necessary) strategies each agency took for building public interest and hype prior to creating an actual public space.

maria ibanez de sendadiano's picture

nyc is remarkably stingy with its public space. real estate is too valuable and unless mandated by zoning, it is not something that is willingly offered by developers or landowners. further, public space in an urban environment has a large pricetag attached to it.

i'm interested in discussing how in fact many of these spaces are not truly public, in that their use is limited, that access may occur through private property, or that activities may be severely limited within these spaces. it might be interesting to define public space and see how several examples stack up to the definition. i think the high line would be a timely and useful example to explore and also governor's island.

sean in nyc's picture

can you be a little more specific? does anyone have spaces they'd like to focus on?


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