Public Space in Chelsea

The two most successful public spaces in Chelsea are the High Line and Hudson River Park.

The High Line was originally built as a railroad track. In the mid 1800s, there were so many railroad accidents in the busy industrial side of Chelsea, that the City of New York decided to raise the railroad above the rest of traffic. The project cost what would be equal to about $2 million today. The railroad helped the industrial part of Chelsea grow even more, as the trains would run right through buildings and factories. The railroad continued to be used until the 1980s, when trucking took the place of railroad delivery. Once the railroad was deserted, there was controversy on what should be done with it. However, in 1999, Friends of The High Line was founded and fought for the High Line to be renovated and turned into a public space. They succeeded, and after almost 6 years of work, the entire park was open by 2011.

When the High Line was being used as a railroad, the trains ran right through the factories of the Industrial area. Source:


A similar part of the High Line today.

The high line is a successful space because it feels “loose” like the spaces described by Franck and Stevens. They explain that “Niches, stairs and recesses located at the edge of public spaces encourage people to linger.” (8). The high line includes all sorts of funky benches and places to sit. Guests purchase food from Chelsea market and often have a relaxed picnic, enjoying the views of the high line.

A seating area on the High Line. Guests are visibly relaxed and comfortable here.

A large portion of Hudson River Park runs along the West side of Chelsea. The Park was built in 1998, after the waterfront had been deteriorating with activity for many years (In 1973, part of the west side highway completely collapsed.) The part of Hudson River Park running through Chelsea is now rich with activity. There are basketball parks, play space for children, and even a dog run.

Hudson River Park is a successful example of what Franck and Stevens call “loose space”. One can see visitors laying and relaxing on the grass, and children running about, playing not only on the playground but on the rocks and grass as well. It even includes a skatepark, and skateboarding is one of the numerous loose activities mentioned by Franck and Stevens. Since Chelsea is full of eccentric people who find freedom of expression in the area, there is not a shortage of eccentric activity in its parks as well.

An open field in the Hudson River Park.

Public Space is important in Chelsea, which still feels industrial and bustling with activity. When in the Hudson River Park, one almost forgets that they are in New York City. The Empire State Building is visible from the Park, yet it feels as though visitors are separated from busy city life. As soon as you enter the park, you can feel the silence. It can be used as a peaceful break from the bustle of the city. Even the high line creates a sense of departure from the city. It too feels quieter than the streets it looks down upon. These parks put visitors at a distance from the rest of the city, an experience that Bachelard highlights in The Poetics of Space. He explains that looking at the world from a distance allows us to daydream (172). Looking at Chelsea from above, or looking at the Empire State Building from the waterfront, we can daydream just as Bachelard wants us to.

Works Cited:

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon, 2010. Print

Franck, Karen A., and Quentin Stevens. Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

“High Line History.” The High Line. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“Hudson River Park.” Hudson River Park. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.