The 13th Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design recognizes the High Line as exemplar for the complex coordination of creative professionals, philanthropists, and policy makers by deeply committed community advocates.

The High Life

The High Life

By the early 1900s, the West Side of Manhattan had become a dangerously congested industrial hub with a hectic and overlapping mixture of freight-lines, trucking-routes, and pedestrian-flows. After more than 436 people were killed and 1,500 maimed by freight trains, Tenth Avenue was dubbed “Death Avenue”, and the city responded by hiring mounted patrols, “West Side Cowboys,” to guide trains through the area. In 1908, a group of concerned citizens formed the League to End Death Avenue and lobbied the city for change. The story of Manhattan’s West Side is one of continual reinvention; cycles of redevelopment and renewal within which the High Line has played a pivotal role at various times in history. When the West Side Improvement Project was proposed in 1929, the High Line was hailed as transformational. The questions of the time were how- not if - to re-envision the West Side, and what role this rail infrastructure would play in that process. Though it was clear in the late 1920s how an infrastructural innovation like the High Line could amplify economic growth and support a more vibrant public realm for the area, by the late 1990s, this kind of creative thinking was in short supply.

Famous old chicken yard looking north from 60th Street, c. 1925, Columbia University, Patrick Ciccone and Dan Fox

Old crossings of 11th Avenue through 33rd Street Yard, c. 1925, Associated Press

Train Wrangler, 1932, New York City Municipal Archives)

Even before the High Line, the Manhattan’s West Side served as New York City’s central hub for food and freight. This map from 1912, highlights the specialized markets served by freight boats and the New York Central Railroad

Map Showing Location of Markest on the North River, May 7, 1912, City of New York Department of Docks and Ferries

The New Yorker cover from 1933 and the New York Magazine cover from 2007 tell a remarkably similar story of renewal and regeneration in which the High Line has, and continues, to play a central role.

Cover Art, Harry Brown, New Yorker, September 16, 1933

Cover of New York Magazine, May 7, 2007

West Side Improvement Pamphlet, June 28, 1934



Along with the proposal for the West Side Highway, the elevated rail became the first major project of the New York City’s West Side Improvement plan.

Though impressive, the positive and negative effects of these developments have been unevenly distributed. While developers have reaped the rewards of skyrocketing property values and the broader public have gained a new open space, low- and middle-income communities have faced rising rents, increasing many times faster than in other neighborhoods in the city.

One third of the High Line passes over, and through, Hudson Yards. This development project, by square footage, is projected to be the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States.

Cover of Fortune Magazine, August, 2003

Building a New City Within a City, Nicholas Rapp, Fortune Magazine, August, 2003



Support for High Line did not come quickly or easily, least of all from the real estate development community. Despite this irony, the High Line has generated over $5 billion in real estate investment and $1.4 billion in tax revenue for NYC over 20 years. This was in large part thanks to the visionary efforts of two private citizens working alongside photographers, benefactors, public officials, and individual citizens to save a doomed elevated railway from demolition by mayoral order and an army of developers that wanted the High Line gone.

Meatpacking facility

West Chelsea was transforming from a neighborhood of meatpackers, leather clubs,  NYC counterculture, and NYCHA housing projects into one with white collar office workers and developer speculation. The High Line was in the way and had to go. After countless public meetings, fundraising events, celebrity endorsements, guerrilla marketing strategies, and design competitions, Friends of the High Line slowly shifted public opinion from antipathy to enthusiasm. In the process, they even launched a lawsuit against one NYC administration led by Mayor Giuliani before gaining the trust and support of the next administration led by Mayor Bloomberg.

“The Wild West”, New York Magazine, March 3, 1997

Community Input Card, Friends of the High Line

“If you were actually able to make a park on the High Line, it would be great for property values. But this will never happen; it is just too far-fetched. These people are dreamers… It’s a pipe dream.”

—Property Owner at the City Council’s High Line Hearing

Letter of Opposition, Manhattan Community Board, April 04, 2003

Friends of the High Line moved the political reception of the High Line Park idea from negative to positive. While NYC Mayor Guiliani supported demolition, in part because of pressure from local developers, his predecessor, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, saw the High Line as an asset – a unique opportunity to transform the city. For him and other federal, state, and municipal leaders, saving the High Line went from an impossible dream to a ‘no-brainer’.

Letter from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to the New York City Council , April 17, 2001

Letter from the Office of Mayor Giuliani to congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York City Municipal Archives, May 31, 2001

Statement before the Community Board 4 Public Forum on the High Line, February 24, 2003

Developers and property owners aggressively lobbied for demolition of the High Line and against its transformation into a park.

New York Post article about Peter Oblet’z and his will to preserve the High Line as operational railway, New York Post, November 13, 1984

Chelsea Property Owner’s campaign “High Line Reality”, 2002

Ground Breaking ceremonies, Spencer Tucker, Office of the mayor, April, 2006

After complex negotiations among property owners, developers, public officials, community groups, benefactors, economists, and designers, the High Line has set a new standard for trans-disciplinary and cross-sectoral coordination in the field of urban design.

The High Line is responsible for record-setting economic development, extensive cultural programming, and the highest standard of excellence in design. More recently though, the High Line has come under criticism, seen by some as an exclusive space for urban elites.

Documentary Class Divide, HBO, 2015

Building the High Line

Building the High Line

In the early 20th century, construction of the High Line involved threading a modular steel construction system, built to carry heavy freight loads fourteen feet above the ground, through a dense grid of existing buildings and blocks. The challenge of the 21st century was dramatically different, but similarly radical: to adapt an historic structure into an elevated public park. The design and construction of the High Line required coordination between Friends of the High Line, James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and various levels of government led by the Bloomberg Administration, as well as the cooperation of the development community. Much like in the 1920s, what resulted was a radical vision for the future that went far beyond the known.

High Line Section, James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The High Line is a freestanding structure that shifts and moves — something the new design, with its incredibly tight tolerances, had to contend with. The original steel structure was dimensioned to carry freight loads, and while its structural depth was more than sufficient to carry the dead loads of a public park, it only provided, on average, eighteen inches of space in which designers had to fit planking, tree planters, soil, and mechanical, electrical, and drainage systems.

Typical High Line Buildup, James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The unique conditions of the High Line presented new challenges for the construction and engineerings firms, including not only hoisting materials thirty feet into the air but also heavy machinery.

All materials and equipment had to be lifted up and down from the structure, often with cranes. Containment tents were constructed to enclose sections of the High Line where lead paint was being sandblasted away. Several deep girders had to be cut both to incorporate new stairs and to provide visual connections to the street. This process had to be carefully analyzed to ensure the remaining structure could withstand projected crowd loads.

Construction Works, Friends of the High Line

Construction Works, Friends of the High Line

Construction Works, Barry Munger

Construction works, Timothy Schenck

Urban Imaginary

Urban Imaginary

Friends of the High Line were as dedicated to an inclusive public process as they were to design excellence. In 2003, they hosted an open design competition that resulted in 720 entries from thirty-six countries, mostly from students and ordinary people. Notwithstanding their differences, the strongest common thread across all design competition entries was an appreciation for the existing landscape. People loved the High Line for what it had become: an urban wild. The final design team was chosen from fifty-one entries that answered an RFP (request for proposals), asking for a multidisciplinary team. In their presentation, Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, were still arguing about the best approach for the project. They were trying to find a balance between preserving the existing wildness and creating something new. For Robert this was summed up on a quote from ‘The Leopard’: “If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.

Entry for High Line Ideas competition, Richard Preli, 2003

First we issued an RFQ, a “request for qualifications,” asking firms to join together in teams of architects, landscape architects, planners, designers, and engineers. (…) We received fifty-one entries and narrowed those down to seven, and then we did interviews with those seven designers, to learn how they would approach the High Line. (The High Line: the inside story of New York’s park in the sky)

“The High Line Pool”, Entry for High Line Ideas competition, Nathalie Rinne, 2003

“The High Line Pool”, Entry for High Line Ideas competition, Nathalie Rinne, 2003

Entry for High Line Ideas competition, FRONT Studio, 2003

Design Competition Proposal, TerraGRAM: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, D.I.R.T Studio, Beyer Blinder Belle, 2004

“It can’t be a park like other parks. If it’s like other parks, we’ve failed.”

—Robert Hammond, Co-founder & Executive Director, Friends of the High Line

Design Competition Proposal, TerraGRAM: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, D.I.R.T Studio, Beyer Blinder Belle, 2004

Design Competition Proposal, Zaha Hadid Architects; Balmori Associates; Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP; studioMDA, 2004

Bridge of Houses, Steven Holl, 1981

Bridge of Houses, Steven Holl, 1981

Design Competition Proposal, Steven Holl Architects; Hargreaves Associates and HNTB, 2004

Design Competition Proposal, Steven Holl Architects; Hargreaves Associates and HNTB, 2004

Design Competition Proposal, Zaha Hadid Architects; Balmori Associates; Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP; studioMDA, 2004

Design Competition Proposal, Steven Holl Architects; Hargreaves Associates and HNTB, 2004

Design Competition Proposal, Steven Holl Architects; Hargreaves Associates and HNTB, 2004

Entry for High Line Ideas competition, Richard Jones/Jamm design, 2003

Plants, Planks, and People

Plants, Planks, and People

The High Line park was envisioned by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Pete Oudolf as a continuous landscape - one that blurs between soft and hard surfaces. The custom planks mediate various material transitions, creating gradients between organic and building materials through a system that is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of uses while maintaining visual continuity among cultivated, wild, intimate, and hyper-social elements. As a promenade, it is intended to be as slow, quiet, simple, and wild as possible, offering unexpected and exceptional vantages of the surrounding city. Without overly prescribing spaces, the High Line has become a platform for an infinitely wide variety of programs and uses, completely curated by Friends of the High Line.

The melancholic and unruly beauty of the derelict infrastructure was preserved by a landscape design and planting strategy that incorporated a combination of native plants and trans-plants that had colonized the High Line. This created microclimate conditions, responding to varying amounts of sun, shade, water, wind, and shelter. Capitalizing on this diversity of conditions, Piet Oudolf, the planting designer, developed a complex system by mixing dominant grasses with other plants and organizing them so that their color and form punctuate each vista in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Planting Design Drawing, Piet Oudolf

Planting Design Drawing, Piet Oudolf

A carefully choreographed system of layering, spacing, and repetition create an apparent wilderness that changes continuously throughout the year.

January/February, Annik LaFarge

March/April, Gigi Altarejos

May/June, Steven N. Severinghaus

July/August, Steven N. Severinghaus

September/October, Melissa Mansur

November/December, Gigi Altarejos,

Material Palette

Material Palette

The hardscape materials, benches, and railings are reduced to the essentials: concrete, wood, steel, and glass. The palette is simple and consistent throughout, and its richness is achieved, not by the ostentatious use of materials, but by a flexible system of components that adapts to different uses and enhances the existing railway. The concrete with gravel is used for the planks, the wood for the seating areas, and steel and glass for the railings. The new materials are in direct dialogue with the existing industrial landscape, the signature design aesthetic of the High Line.

Big Data, Anton Egorov, High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

During the past 40 years, the West Chelsea has undergone dramatic change. While the High Line certainly dominates the present-day character of surrounding neighborhoods, it does so at the expense of many people, industries, and subcultures that had previously ‘made’ the neighborhood. Some local residents, those for whom the High Line park was intended, felt unwelcome and never showed up. Friends of the High Line responded by developing a broad range of initiatives including diversified programming, intentional community outreach, and targeted investments in surrounding neighborhoods. Today the High Line hosts a wide variety of programs—including dance parties, teen internships, and an opera. It is now visited by over 7 million people a year—31% of which come from within NYC.

Many of Chelsea mainstays from the 1970s and 80s held on until recently. Meat handlers, sex workers, and gay clubbers shared Chelsea’s streets.

Most manufacturers, many of whom were reliant on the elevated railways, left Manhattan during the economic decline in the 1970s. However, the meatpacking industry remained around 14th Street.

Empire Diner, David J. Martin

Meatpacking district, Michael Syracuse

Meatpacking district, Efrain John Gonzalez, 2008

Pamphlet distributed at Meatpacking district, Florent Morellet

A richly diverse community moved into empty warehouses in Chelsea. In 1985 Florent Morellet took over the R&L Restaurant, which had opened in 1943, and renamed it Florent. The following January, a reporter from New York magazine referred to it as “New York’s hottest downtown eating spot.” The restaurant closed on 2008.

Pamphlet distributed at Meatpacking district, Florent Morellet

Pamphlet distributed at Meatpacking district, Florent Morellet

Restaurant Florent, Tony Cenicola / The New York Times / Redux

Cover of High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

Declining industry in the 1970s left the West Side warehouses empty, the High Line abandoned, and a diverse community marginalized, much of it low-income. This made room for warehouse conversions into clubs and social spaces to support a vibrant and growing gay culture. By the 1980s, during the AIDS epidemic, the neighborhood became a center for activist efforts. Later, with the opening of Dia Center for the Arts in 1987, a gallery scene began to flourish in Chelsea. The occupation of empty warehouses and lofts by artists, priced out of SoHo, accelerated the transformation of West Chelsea to a neighborhood of galleries and lofts. By 2003, West Chelsea had become one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in Manhattan.

“Creating a more equitable High Line”, High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

“Creating a more equitable High Line”, High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

“Creating a more equitable High Line”, High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

Teen Arts and Culture Council offers teens an opportunity to develop skills in cultural production and social justice, and culminates in two events exclusively for teens on the High Line that bring together more than 1,400 teens from all over New York City.

Teen Arts and Culture Council, Rowa Lee

High Society

High Society

The High Line Art program curates and commissions world-class art projects on public space. The High Line is the only park in New York that exhibits contemporary art all year round, for free. The art objects engage with the unique structure, provoking an important dialogue with the surrounding neighborhood and the urban landscape.

The artist and graphic Paula Scher painted this High Line neighborhood map as part of 2005 series The Maps.

Map of the High Line neighborhood, Paula Scher

High Line logo, Pentagram



Before Josh and David had an office or employees, they commissioned Paula Scher for their logo.

The opening of the park coincided with the obsession with smartphones. Apps such as Flickr and Instagram reveal the public’s obsession with photographing themselves on the High Line.

official New York Flickr meetup, Markus Spiering, February 18, 2012.

The High Line Plinth is a new landmark destination for major public art commissions in New York City located on the High Line at West 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Designed as the focal point of the Spur, the newest section of the High Line, the High Line Plinth, will designate the first space on the High Line dedicated specifically to art, featuring a rotating program of new commissions.

Section of the Spur

Spur, Friends of the High Line

Art selected for the opening of the Plinth, Friends of the High Line

High Line Plinth, Friends of the High Line

Value Capture

Value Capture

When public investment (in this case, a public park) begets private investment, there are mechanisms that enable the public sector to recover some of the value it ‘created’. In the case of the High Line, the city captured value through incremental increases in tax revenue due to increased density and property values, transaction taxes, and an increase in hotel tax revenue. The city also captured value directly for the public park through the sale of development rights and the acquisition of easements from private property owners for public stairs and elevators, and back of house spaces. Owners of sites under the High Line, previously unable to develop their sites, were allowed to monetized their unused development rights by transferring those rights to nearby properties.

The economic feasibility study, developed by John Alshuler at HR&A, was crucial in shifting the opinions of property owners and City. The study showed that the High Line would amplify the already increasing property values and city tax revenues.

Businesses in the area benefit from capitalizing on the power of the High Line’s name recognition.

Economic Feasibility Report, HR&A Advisors, Inc., 2002

Local businesses cards

“Once you create value, it’s very hard to capture it back.”

—Robert Hammond, Co-founder & Executive Director, Friends of the High Line

Whitney Museum

While none of the more traditional value capture mechanisms addressed the ongoing operations costs of the park, Friends of the High Line were instead successful at capturing civic and cultural value. This is measurable by the scale and staying power of individual support over two decades, a robust public programming agenda, and the project’s global influence on other urban reuse projects.

Friends of the High Line has worked hard to sustain long-term Chelsea residents in neighborhood.

“Save the spur” – marketing for the preservation of the High Line near the Rail Yards, Friends of the High Line

View of the ‘Projects’ from the High Line, Iwan Baan


The High Line extends across the intersection of the 10th Avenue and West 30th Street to connect with the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center. Decades ago, this extension, called the 10th Avenue Spur, allowed freight trains to carry mail and packages to and from the upper-floor loading docks of the post office building. Today, the Spur is the widest area on the High Line, and it occupies a strategic position in the neighborhood, where it will serve as a visual access point to Hudson Yards, and offer visitors unique views along the north-south corridor of 10th Avenue and the east-west corridor of West 30th Street.

Arts & Culture for All, High Line Magazine, Fall 2016

In an era of neoliberalism when resources for public amenities such as municipal parks can be relatively scarce, the High Line is maintained and operated by privately-raised funding by a non-profit civil society organization: Friends of the High Line. Nearly 1/3 of its $14-million-dollar annual budget supports social, cultural, and educational programs that engage and proactively welcome-in local communities which may not recognize the High Line as a place for them as well as all New Yorkers. Through a range of public programs, Friends of the High Line capitalize on the High Line’s success to engage a broader range of publics and invest in NYC residents that didn’t otherwise see the High Line as a place for them.



Reflecting on the High Line’s social, environmental, and economic successes—and shortcomings—and with a genuine aim to find ways to create the most equitable public places, Friends of the High Line established a peer-to-peer community of infrastructure reuse projects that spans the country and the globe. While contexts and resources vary widely among the cities and projects, Friends of the High Line operate with a belief that every project team has something to share with, and learn from, each other. It is this capacity to reflect, be self-critical, and to constantly reinvent and expand their mission that sets Friends of the High Line apart.

“A lot of the reason city governments want to do this is because it’s going to increase value. But what we want the cities to understand is the other issues–not just the economic impacts but the social impacts as well . . . [the issues surrounding these projects] used to be about fundraising and design, and people are realizing that the most critical point in these projects is social equity around their neighborhoods.”

— Robert Hammond, Co-founder & Executive Director, Friends of the High Line

Curatorial Statement

The 13th Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design recognizes the High Line as exemplar for the complex coordination of creative professionals, philanthropists, and policy makers by deeply committed community advocates. The Green Prize also recognizes Friends of the High Line for their unwavering commitment to improving the public realm through design excellence and for their capacity to continually reinvent the High Line in ways that support more inclusive public spaces both in New York and across the globe.

The opening of the High Line in 2009 was neither the parks first nor final achievement. Originally conceived in the early 20th century, the elevated rail was a response to public outcry over railrelated fatalities at street level. Over time, the High Line became increasingly peripheral to New Yorkers, if they noticed it at all, seen more as a decaying behemoth, a platform for vice, and a hindrance to progress than for its potential as a transformative public asset. Nearly ten years after the first section opened, the High Lines reemergence as a beloved and celebrated public space not only has transformed a neighborhood, it also has influenced how we approach and understand urban design on a global scale.

The evolving nature of cities situates the practice of urban design within much longer trajectories of urbanization than can be fully expressed or understood by a singular site, agent, or process. The High Line exists simultaneously as material, infrastructural, and objectbased, and immaterial, agencydriven, and processesoriented. Its influence extends far beyond the physical, temporal, and geographical space it occupies. Projects like the High Line can come into being only through an expanded practice of design one that interweaves politics, policy, and public process into the design of the built environment. This exhibition explores these intersections of activism and infrastructure, unpacking the social, natural, and formal design components that make the High Line an exceptional urban design project.

Stephen Gray and Caroline Filice Smith, Cocurators

View/Download the Jury Announcement

Exhibition Credits

Prize Selection Committee

  • Diane Davis, Committee Chair
  • Stephen Gray
  • Jeannette Kuo
  • Paola Vigano
  • Charles Waldheim


Curation and Exhibition Design

  • Stephen Gray, Co-curator
  • Caroline Filice Smith, Co-curator
  • Forrest Jessee, Exhibition Designer
  • Dan Borelli, Director of Exhibitions
  • David Zimmerman-Stuart, Exhibitions Coordinator
  • Mariana Paisana, Research and Graphics


GSD Administration

  • Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design
  • Patricia Roberts, Executive Dean
  • Ken Stewart, Assistant Dean and Director of Communications and Public Programs
  • Paige Johnston, Manager of Public Programs


Billboard Photos

  • Iwan Baan
  • Joel Sternfeld


Exhibition Collaborators

  • Adam Ganser, Vice President for Planning and Design, Friends of the High Line
  • Anna Hippee, Planning and Design Coordinator, Friends of the High Line
  • Lisa Tziona Switkin, Senior Principal, James Corner Field Operations
  • Margaret Jankowsky, Director of Marketing and Business Development, James Corner Field Operations
  • Matthew Johnson, Principal, DS+R
  • Trevor Lamphier, DS+R



  • Stephen Gray
  • Studio Rainwater
  • Ronee Saroff
  • Work-Shop

About The Prize

The Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design recognizes exemplary urban design projects that demonstrate a humane and worthwhile direction for the design of urban environments.

Awarded biennially, the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design is the foremost award recognizing achievement in this field. Established in 1986 on the occasion of Harvard University’s 350th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the prize recognizes exemplary urban design projects realized anywhere in the world in the past 10 years. Nominations for the prize are received from the GSD’s extensive network of academics and urban design professionals. Projects must be more than one building or an open space, and are evaluated in terms of their contributions to the public realm and to quality of urban life.