After sustaining myself for months on New York Times slideshows and various design blogs, I finally got to live out my architecture-geek fantasy and walk the Highline in person. When friends heard of my plan, they feared I had joined a circus troupe or some kind of Johnny Cash tribute band. And while all that sounds rather exciting, my weekend in New York City was far more benign. In fact, it was merely a walk in the park – the Highline Park, to be more specific.
If they had been reading The Weekly Wright-Up, my friends would have known that the Highline is a park built on an abandoned elevated railway that once supplied meatpackers and manufacturers on Manhattan's West Side. Designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro integrated everything from the old tracks (which now host rolling chaise lounges) to the wildflowers growing among the rusted railroad ties.
The Highline’s rampant success (the media darling sees 20,000 visitors daily, among them Kevin Bacon, Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton) proves that modern cities can embrace their industrial heritage and promote sustainability, all while pleasing tourists, crabby locals and the haughtiest of architecture critics. But, as Buffalonians, it’s hard not to feel just a little left out. New York, it seems, is like the sibling who always gets the new bike for Christmas, while Buffalo get’s shafted with a pair of socks (hand-me-downs no less).
With its vibrant industrial past, the Queen City is primed for such a project. As someone who has grown up in the shadow of the derelict Wurlitzer building, Buffalo’s myriad industrial relics have always managed to capture my imagination (In fact, I’ve always dreamed of living in a grain elevator).
It turns out that I’m not alone in my fascination. Last March, I read an article buried on an inside page of the Buffalo News about Ran Webber. Webber imagines the Buffalo Skyway creatively re-engineered to function as a signature green multi-use mega-structure, complete with a glass enclosed green roof and pedestrian pathway – sound familiar? The design would effectively create a year-round garden path from downtown to the lakefront. Sadly, such repurposing of the Skyway has gotten little press since that article six months ago.
Perhaps with the Highline’s recent success, local developers will feel inspired to take the plunge. But, unlike the Highline, which had the luxury of celebrity boosters and a location in an already thriving district, the Skyway project’s risk is amplified by the fact that Buffalo is hardly booming. The stakes are greater here, but so are the rewards. Developers would be building more than a park in a swank neighborhood; they would be embarking on a project with the potential to help bring a city back to life.