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Innovative zoning tools — West Chelsea & High Line Plan
08 NOV 2019
The High Line in New York City needs no introduction. Its huge success has already inspired and spurred many other similar urban rejuvenation projects around the world. In this case study, we revisit the origins of this ground-breaking project and the remarkable story of how the 2012 Prize Laureate city fought to create a truly original landmark.
The West Chelsea/High Line Plan is a Special Zoning District that adopts innovative regulatory and urban design framework for the development of new and affordable housing and preservation of the city’s premier art gallery district.
The Plan centred on the transformation of the 2.4-kilometre High Line, an abandoned elevated rail line running though the district into a unique elevated linear park, features a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) scheme that allows owners of property within the High Line Transfer Corridor to transfer their development rights to ‘designated’ receiving sites within the special district.
Repurposing of the High Line into an urban park began in 2007, with the first phase opened in 2009, and the second phase in 2011. The third and final phase opened to the public in September 2014.
The High Line features a mixture of landscaping elements, including plantings, innovative ‘peel-up’ benches, water fountains, public gathering areas, children’s exploration areas, recreational pathways, and unique viewing decks. The project uses inventive design to encourage stair climbing, walking and relaxation.
West Chelsea was dominated by underutilised buildings and parking lots, due to the area’s light manufacturing zoning. Hence, the vibrant residential core of Chelsea has not been able to expand to extend westwards.
A critical need for new and affordable housing in the West Chelsea area.
The need to protect and encourage continued growth of the area’s dynamic art gallery district.
Pressure from private property owners under the structure to demolish the abandoned rail line to allow for new development, despite it being considered a landmark in the neighbourhood.
The planning and design of the High Line park was created through a partnership between public partners and city agencies, including the NYC Department of City Planning, Park Department, The Friends of the High Line (FHL), and the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The proposal to save the High Line was supported by the Bloomberg administration.
The Department of City Planning played a central role in the development of the High Line, and in leveraging the park by creating special development corridor with innovative land use and design rules that resulted in a surrounding envelop of architecturally celebrated buildings and a veritable beehive of mixed uses.
The Department of City Planning worked together with the community to create a new special zoning district and an innovative floor-area transfer mechanism, to balance the multiple goals of preserving the neighbourhood identity, unlocking development potential and preserving light, air and views around the open space.
The West Chelsea plan demonstrates that innovative zoning tools can be a powerful tool for unlocking development potential and creating new public assets that benefit the entire city.
The unique floor area transfer mechanism allows owners below the High Line to transfer their development rights to sites within a designated area, thus enabling these sites to realise their developmental potential and spur unrealised growth potential within the district. It also preserves light, air and views around the High Line open space.
The zoning changes preserved the surrounding art gallery district and incentivised new housing for all income groups, turning the once desolated area into a thriving 24/7 community.
At prominent locations, the zoning allows floor area bonuses in exchange for restoration of the structure, development of new open space and provision of stair and elevator access.
The High Line is framed as an economic revitalisation project rather than a conservation one, with the derelict elevated rail-line as the heart for new residential and commercial developments influencing the success of its implementation.
West Chelsea has transformed from an underutilised manufacturing area into a premier neighbourhood in the city.
Quality of life of residents and business owners improved.
The revitalised district has attracted more than USD $2 billion worth of private investment and created 43 new buildings in the area (1,400 housing units, 700,000 square feet of commercial space) in the first six years.
West Chelsea has become an international draw with the iconic High Line, with distinguished architects around the world clamouring to build in the neighbourhood.
The High Line project has inspired cities throughout the United States to redevelop obsolete infrastructure as public space.
The High Line now hosts over 450 programmes and activities and attracted more than 20 million visitors since its opening in 2009. According to a survey, nearly 50 percent of the visitors are New York City residents.