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When construction on New York City’s famous High Line began in 2006, the project to turn a remnant of the industrial age into a post-industrial garden and tourist attraction appeared innovative, but potentially very risky.
In fact, having finally opened in 2009, the High Line is now suffering from its own success: with more than 5 million estimated visitors to the site each year, this greening initiative has managed to transform the entire socio-economic character of the neighbourhood that surrounds it. Many small businesses and moderate-income residents have been forced to relocate due to rising land values, while even those who can afford it have begun to experience the downsides of living or working in an area that panders to tourists.
The High Line is thus a perfect example of “environmental gentrification” – the growing phenomenon of rising property values in the wake of a large-scale urban greening project. It’s a bit like the introduction of a new transportation hub or other major infrastructure project: while intended to serve existing residents, in reality it tends to increase land values to the point that those who live there are forced to leave. This exodus in turn transforms the sociological contours of the area and, by extension, the spatial segregation of the entire city.
It feels timely, then, to revisit an old question: what is the best way to introduce nature into a city? […]