A High Line for the Upper East Side?
“[A] clever group of planners and activists would like to transform [Park Avenue] into a world-class gathering place rather than a mere thoroughfare” writes Matt Chaban, highlighting two proposals unveiled at the Municipal Art Society’s third annual MAS Summit that were inspired by an old and “somewhat well-known black-and-white photograph of gentlemen and ladies in repose in the very middle of [it]”. The photograph was taken in the 1920s, about a decade after the street was built, when there was still a park running through it. Since then, the avenue was widened to accommodate cars, leaving only a small median intact that was woefully ill-maintained through the 1970's.
Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of Columbia’s Center for Urban Real Estate and partner at SHoP architects, thinks that creating a pathway today could alleviate congestion, improve traffic flow and open up public space in a part of the city that has few green options, "[e]ven with Central Park nearby," says Chaban. He reports that Mr. Chakrabarti's more modest proposal “calls for building the project from 46th Street to 59th Street" whereas the more more ambitious project submitted by SOM, aims to “pedestrianize the entire length of Park Avenue, running from Union Square all the way to 125th Street.”
These visionary plans for Park Avenue are being considered by different stakeholders including the local councilman. That said, Chaban points out that the most vocal opposition to the proposals may come from the local residents and community, which he sampled at a private cocktail reception.
Proponents like SOM principal Roger Duffy are optimistic that the Bloomberg administration could be convinced of carrying out such a transformative proposal, considering their track record. Mr. Chakrabarti also has a positive outlook, saying that he thinks “people will fall in love with it... but you have to take it slowly.” He alludes to how the the High Line was built out slowly, in digestible phases, adding that the proposed pathway could be easily expanded further later.