In Search of the "High Line Effect": Grading 5 Attempts to Replicate the Magic of NYC's Postindustrial Park

Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail
(Courtesy jntolva via flickr)

Immitation, of course, is the sincerest form of flattery. This weekend, right at the heels of the unveiling of the plans for the third portion of New York's ultra-popular High Line park, Chicago released plans for its own spin on the elevated park theme, dubbed the Bloomingdale Trail. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a sudden $7-million corporate donation to the project, rounding out the $46 million necessary to begin construction on its first phase and complete it by 2014.

Like its architectural cousin, the "Bilbao Effect," which spawned a rash of flashy museum buildings in de-industrializing cities the world-over, the magical "High Line Effect" has entered the urban planning lexicon with a vengeance. Since the High Line debuted in 2009, the colossal drawing power of New York's elevated park, coupled with its transformation of Chelsea, has spawned so many copycat proposals that the Web site Curbed even started a “High Line Copycat Chronicles” series to track them all, from Philadelphia's planned park in the Reading Viaduct to Singapore's scheme for its Green Corridor. Several are based on derelict elevated train tracks, while one or two others creatively float on the water or rest underground. A couple are even in the works right here in New York.


While none have yet been completed, a few are coming close. Here, ARTINFO offers an overview of a few of the choicer proposals, grading them on our own assessment of the likelihood thgat they'll capture that special High Line magic. 


ARUP, with Ross Barney Architects and Michael Van Valkenburgh are transforming the former rail line into a park that, at 2.7 miles, will run nearly twice the length of the completed High Line. As another bit of one-ups-manship, the park would have a path for cyclists, who are unwelcome on the Manhattan version. Landscaping includes the standard High Line-esque mix of seating, foliage, and public art. In total the cost would come to $70 million.

HIGH LIKABILITY: Solid 7. Not only does it trump the High Line in size and accessibility to cyclists, but it actually seems to have some real traction. Extra points for showing off the Chicago skyline.


The English capital proposes the London River Park, a Gensler-designed floating walkway along the north bank of the Thames, connecting major landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and the Tate Modern. The kilometer-long stretch is expected to revitalize the desolate north bank of the Thames, with a few extra amenities in addition to the foliage: cafés, shops, and even a floating swimming pool.

HIGH LIKABILITY: Low 5. While it all sounds lovely — a walkway on the Thames would offer spectacular views and a unique experience for tourists — High Line project lead James Corner Field Operations, with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf, were adamant about never putting commercial venues on the High Line, lest it come to resemble the dreaded mark of the suburbs: a strip mall. We’re not sure when this park is going to happen, either. The London River Park was originally scheduled to open in time for the 2012 Olympics, but was delayed by the Queen’s 60th anniversary celebration (her “Diamond Jubilee” in Britspeak), which involves an immense flotilla of boats, out of "concerns for Her Majesty's safety" (some of the boats might have hit the floating platforms associated with the park). The nearby Globe Theatre has also made complaints about the noise all the tourists are going to generate, while public officials have called the look of the design scheme into question.


An unused triangle plot in Chinatown would take the standard amenities of a public park and infuse them with Asian flourishes: bamboo and weeping cherry trees, benches made of stone, and Chinese contemporary art legend Xu Bing’s signature calligraphy engraved into its grand stairway. After a Xu-related delay, the opening of the park has been pushed from mid-2013 to mid-2014.

HIGH LIKABILITY: 5. While depictions of the upcoming park are amusingly Hanna-Barbera-like in appearance, they don’t shout “High Line” at us. We dig the concept, but it will be so, so tiny; it’s likely to become a tranquil destination for locals who need a break from the erratic bustle of Chinatown rather than a powerhouse tourist throughfare.


They've already nicknamed it the "Low Line." The formula’s the same: an abandoned railway and a dream, but this time, it takes place underground with the help of fiber-optic technology that would project the sky down into the park. It’s been so well-received, its Kickstarter page surpassed its $100,000 goal in just a few days.

HIGH LIKABILITY: 9. Unlike the others, the Low Line's subterranean situation brings something new to the conversation. It would be a major draw during winter months, especially on days you miss reading a book under a tree.


Bearing a striking resemblance to the High Line, the Mexico City version is a gray walkway lush with greenery, although built independently rather than onto an existing structure. That's right, they are actually designing a new abandoned traintrack-like structure for this one. It would function as a pathway from a metro stop to Chapultepec Forest, the largest urban park in Latin America, and feature picnic tables and recreational lawns. The time and budget it would take are relatively slim; officials estimate it would take just $4.3 million and four months to construct, but although they had aimed to begin in December or January, ground still hasn't been broken.

HIGH LIKABILITY: 4. The park would vastly improve the commute of locals, but there’s no novelty to this plan that would attract spectators from elsewhere. Also, it's completely dropped off the radar since it was originally covered in August, and to top it off, as far as we can tell, it doesn't even have a catchy or charming name! 

To see images of the planned parks mentioned in this article, click on the slide show.