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The oldest river crossing in New York City is now the newest. The 1848 High Bridge that spans the Harlem River and links upper Manhattan to The Bronx has recently emerged from a multi-year, $61.8 million renovation. It re-opened to the public on June 9th. Whether the initial enthusiasm of using this restored public space can reenergize a neighborhood will take years to find out, however, for the moment this project is bringing tourists and residents to an area that was previously known only to locals and intrepid urban explorers. Will it spur new economic activity to an ungentrified area? Is that indeed what is wanted or needed? Questions to be answered later.
For the moment however, the opening of the High Bridge inspires reflection upon its past rather than shines a light on its future. With an arched design inspired by Roman aqueducts, the High Bridge was part of the Croton Aqueduct system that brought fresh water from Westchester County, north of the city to Manhattan. A pedestrian walkway was added above the water pipes not quite 20 years after the bridge’s opening, creating in some people’s eyes the City’s first “High Line.” At the time, it was a generator of social and economic activity, a focus that attracted people as well as artists and photographers. Hotels and restaurants sprouted up around it. Around the turn of the 20th century, the waterfront was an active recreational area and ferries plied the shores. […]