Between now and the end of 2010, AHAlife is profiling seven of the most exciting, up-and-coming New York-based entrepreneurs we've encountered this past year—spanning each of our daily categories. Read more to learn why they’re names to follow, and hear their tips and insights into key trends for 2011.
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While the past two years have brought on a lot of hardship for many New Yorkers, there is one new development that has brought universal joy: the beautiful public park, the High Line, which was built and landscaped on an abandoned elevated railroad track on Manhattan's West Side. Robert Hammond, who together with Joshua David co-founded the non-profit Friends of the High Line, which funds and operates the project, sees more possibilities for transforming industrial wastelands and greening cities around the world.
What do you do?
I am the President and Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, the non-profit I co-founded with Joshua David in 1999 to save the High Line, the public park built atop an old freight rail viaduct elevated above the streets on Manhattan's West Side. Friends of the High Line started as an advocacy group, but today it is the conservancy that manages the park, in addition to raising the essential funding to pay for the daily park operations. The gardeners, maintenance workers, greeters, tour guides, bathroom attendants, programming staff - every employee you see on the High Line is employed by Friends of the High Line, and all the public art and public programs are paid for with private funding that we raise.
What are some of the projects you worked on this past year?
Many people think the High Line is finished, but the first section represents only one-third of the entire structure. Transforming the remainder into a public park is at the forefront of my mind these days. The next section of the High Line, which we call Section 2, runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets. It will open to the public in the spring of 2011 and will double the size of the park . Recently I was awarded the 2010 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. Living in Rome between August, 2009 and July, 2010, I was struck by the beauty of the abandoned walkways and embankments along the Tiber River. My friend Lisa Bielawa and I figured out a way to turn them into an active public space. Our project, called Chance Encounter on the Tiber, culminated with a combination of the two ideas—moveable chairs and musical performance—on the Tiber River on Monday, May 31. We placed the chairs along the river in the morning and left them there all day to see how people would use them, and then we organized two musical performances in the early evening. As we were hoping, the sounds and sights of the chairs and performances were beautiful in a unique way. For photos and video of the project, visit the project web site.
Why is it important to transform relics from an industrial past into public parks?
Urban areas no longer have large areas of open farmland to turn into parkland. Out-of-use industrial infrastructure presents new opportunities for public open space. One of the great things about the High Line is that the design was inspired by the structure's history. Visitors see the old railroad ties and loading docks as they walk through the park, and they're reminded that the High Line once carried trains to the warehouses and factories of Lower Manhattan.
The High Line has been an example for study for many international urban planners. What were the most exciting other urban greening projects and developments of former industrial areas around the world that you noted in the past year? Which project has been the most inspiring?
The Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago and the Harsimus Stem Embankment in Jersey City are two of the most exciting projects I've seen in the past year. They are smaller in scale, but they have the potential to have a very positive impact on the surrounding communities. As for the most inspiring park, the transformation of the old Tempelhof Airport in Berlin into a public park is one of the most uplifting events of the year.
Is there a general, world-wide trend towards being more aware of quality of life in urban environments?
Europe is ahead of the United States in its re-use of old industrial space. Americans traditionally have not seen beauty in old industrial sites, but that is now changing.
Why do you think this is happening now?
There is a worldwide movement toward sustainability, and the best way to be sustainable is to re-use existing buildings and infrastructure. Plus people are living and working in urban areas now more than ever. Industrial re-use is the ultimate act of recycling.
What are some possible new arenas for urban greening projects that you foresee for the upcoming year/future?
The IRT Powerhouse presents a wonderful opportunity for re-use as public space in New York City.
What developments would you like to see in your field this year?
Architects often get all the credit for transforming public spaces, but landscape designers play an important role. I would like to see more attention paid to landscape design, and I'd like to see a system for certifying landscape architecture in a similar fashion as the LEED certification system for buildings.
What's on your personal wish list for the upcoming year?