Chelsea’s High Line opened last month after a half-decade of relentless buildup, and its journey to completion tells a fascinating narrative about New York’s recent economic history. It snakes from the Meatpacking District’s cobble-stoned designer mall (where a few meat plants still manage to pay their boutique-rate rents), through the West Chelsea gallery area, past the tacky clubs in the upper 20s (where the absence of actual residents means no noise complaints) and towards the possible future site of a massive housing project and office park disaster known as the Hudson Yards. The High Line echoes the stories of economic extremes that were hallmarks of the recent boom, and it will likely remain a monument to the flash and flair of the early aughts. Still, it’s a singular instance of private and public interests turning something old and abandoned into an engine for new development and vitality. This, in turn, makes it a compelling blueprint for revitalization in less obvious, outlying locales.
Though the result of a unique synergy between business interests, public supporters and generous benefactors, the High Line has fostered the kind of economic diversity less privileged neighborhoods and abandoned sites could benefit from immensely. Already, plans for a similar, larger project in the country’s eco-design capital, Chicago, are underway, and other cities are looking for similar sites. And, of course, Paris did the industrial railway-to-elevated park conversion thing first. But who’s to say the next High Line shouldn’t also be in New York? Instead of being redeployed in another city, why not export the concept to the outer boroughs? Here, then, are some stubbornly pre-recession plans for old infrastructure and industrial locales outside Manhattan that could use some of that High Line loving.
Queens: Flushing Airport
Flushing was one of the busiest airports in the city from its 1927 opening — under the snazzy name Speed’s Airport — until the 60s. Thereafter neighboring LaGuardia International, which lies just west around Flushing Bay, slowly overtook it, and a deadly crash in 1977, combined with continual flooding, led to its closing in 1984. Several plans for reopening the old airport as an airfield (for the Goodyear Blimp, among other aircraft) have fallen through. In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to turn the marshy lands into a commercial park, but that didn’t go over so well with the locals, and then the economy tanked. In the fall of 2008, some of its last remaining hangars, hulking structures slowly keeling over in various states of disrepair, were torn down.
Separated from the Flushing and Browne Park neighborhoods to the east by a highway, and from semi-suburban College Point to the west by malls and their expansive parking lots, Flushing Airport would make a spectacular hub park and cultural center for the surrounding neighborhoods. Think of it as a really big (about three times bigger) McCarren Park, drawing crowds from all adjacent areas and further. Roughly equal parts marsh, meadow and paved terrain, the park could accommodate a broad variety of outdoor activities including but not limited to: biking, rowing, kayaking, a skate park, playing fields and a community-run farm (like in Red Hook).
With all that paved surface area, the site also gets plenty of sun year round, making Flushing Airport Park the perfect locale for “eco-friendly” New York’s first solar power farm. Besides, Brooklyn Navy Yard already got the city’s first permanent wind turbines. Finally, being plainly visible from the highway, and (eventually) connected to LaGuardia via a high-speed rail link and bike-share program, what better way to attract passing motorists and visitors from further away than with the city’s only year-round drive-in movie theater (with pedestrian seating, of course)? The drive-in would also double as a performance space for outdoor theater and concerts in the summer.