The High Line, the third and final leg of which just opened, has indelibly changed West Chelsea since its inception five years ago, with enormous, hugely expensive condo towers sprouting on either side like weeds. That's a nice thing if you're, say, a Russian oligarch, and less of a nice thing if you're Melva Max, owner La Luncheonette. The beloved Chelsea restaurant is about to join the list of small businesses that have been muscled out of the once run-down area by soaring real estate values, and Max took some time to talk with Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York about it.
Max's take on the situation is reasonable and measured. "My landlord's not a bad guy," she says, "but how you can you say no to offers of $30 million?" She has less kind words about the tourists, however (and she's not the first): "People aren't going to like me for saying this, but it feels like Disneyland around here now. Everyone's fighting the crowd to get to the next ride. People on the High Line look like lemmings, like they're walking on a treadmill." Not only that, but the tourists haven't even been good business — their buses drop them off one end of the High Line and pick them up on the other. The only ones who wander downstairs want to use her bathroom.
Max's complaints echo what many New Yorkers have been saying for years — that Manhattan is turning into an amusement park/strip mall for the super wealthy, filled with chain stores and condominiums and no room for anything else. "The High Line was a Trojan horse for the real-estate people," she tells Moss, and it's a sentiment that's tough to refute. Moss goes on to outline how the West Chelsea rezoning in 2005 that allowed for the High Line also expressly encouraged the exact type of development we're seeing now, with easy-to-come-by air rights and the possibility for additional height at minimal cost.
Not particularly ironically, the very buildings that the High Line made possible will soon turn it into a glassy canyon, blocking out the air, light, and views that helped to win the elevated park such acclaim when it first opened. Whether one could have existed without the other is a matter of debate, and but it's probably worth imagining what things would be like had the High Line not been accompanied by such aggressive rezoning. At the very least, Max says, "it could have been a nice park."
· La Lunchonette VANISHING [JVNY]
· New York Classic La Lunchonette Is Crumbling Beneath the High Line in Chelsea [Eater NY]
· The High Line coverage [Curbed]