13. February 2013 / Ricky Ricardo

High Line Executive Director to Step Down

Friends of the High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond announced on Monday that he will be stepping down from his position as Executive Director of the non-profit group at the end of this year. Mr. Hammond played a leading role in the conversion of a disused elevated railway on the West Side of Manhattan into the now thriving High Line park, which has become one of New York's top tourist attractions. Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 by Mr. Hammond and Joshua David (the now chief development officer) who both held tremendous vision for an industrial relic that was destined for demolition.

Robert Hammond, Friends of the High Line Co-Founder & outgoing Executive Director. Image: Instagram @highlinenyc

"I always had three goals for the High Line: that it’s a well-loved park, that it inspires others to start their own projects and that it not be dependent on Josh and me” said Hammond in a letter to supporters. "The High Line will continue to evolve. I've never thought of it as just a park. To me, it is more like an ever-changing cultural institution. In the not-too-distant future, the third and final section of the High Line will open to visitors, but I don't think that will be the end of the story. The High Line's horticulture, design, art, programs, and community outreach will evolve, with new innovations and surprises each season."

Since its opening, the park designed by James Corner Field Operations has redefined open space in America's most urbanised city, and has been used as a precedent for numerous projects the world over: see here. Though perhaps above all else, it has elevated the profession of landscape architecture – reminding the general population of the importance of public space in our cities, and the positive transformative effects design can have on our environment. However there are always unforeseen side-effects associated with urban renewal projects of this magnitude, and the High Line is no exception.

To some New Yorkers, the park has fallen victim to its own success. In an article published in the New York Times, Jeremiah Moss writes "the High Line has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history." Property prices in the former meat-packing area have skyrocketed, and in 2005 the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development – good news for the elite, but not so good for the working-class residents who previously occupied the area. Such problems are not easily addressed, and it seems for the most part they'll simply be accepted as collateral damage in an otherwise spectacular story of grass-root community action paired with good design.

The Friends of the High Line Board of Directors will now begin the search for a new Executive Director. The final section yet to be built will run west to 12th Avenue and then continue north to 34th Street, hugging the West Side Rail Yards. It is scheduled to open in 2014.

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