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THE HIGH LINE,
While not directly transferable to WA’s landscape,
the positive nature of the outcome of The High
Line in New York is a great example of what can be
achieved when a genuinely creative development
process is allowed to happen.
The project is the conversion of a disused,
elevated rail line in downtown New York City
into a community park. The idea to repurpose the
dilapidated viaduct as public open space, rather than
demolish it, was initiated by a local residents group
and received support from the City Mayor and the
approval of the transport authority. The architectural
team that was engaged for the conversion, Diller
Scoffidio + Renfro, is an interdisciplinary design
studio that integrates architecture, the visual arts,
and the performing arts.
The success of the High Line project is linked
to the fact that it is a response to an opportunity
identified by the community rather than just
a reaction to a community need provided
by a local authority. From a heritage point of
view, the retention of a significant piece of city
infrastructure has resulted in a mechanism for
interpreting the history of the place that it inhabits,
and acts to connect the generations that live around
it. This is despite the fact there was no obvious use
for the viaduct, and that the viaduct itself is not an
attractive part of the urban landscape.
The creative repurposing of disused built
infrastructure has avoided unnecessary demolition
and instead created a unique community space
that could only come from an evolutionary process
rather than from a new project. As a result, locals
feel more connected to their community. Property
prices have increased, private developers are
incorporating the viaduct into their projects, and
the High Line is being extended.
While we don’t have disused viaducts in WA
to which to transfer the High Line project, it is
the process that allows and encourages members
of the public to identify and promulgate creative
opportunities that build stronger communities
by repurposing redundant built infrastructure.
The results can enhance our understanding of the
heritage of places, and make more sustainable
use of valuable resources rather than demolishing
buildings only to start again with new ones.
Effective engagement with the public
is a difficult task to manage, especially in
a bureaucratic development environment, however
the benefits that can be achieved extend well
beyond the built form to deliver safer, healthier and
happier communities that care for their public.
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