Creating opportunity
New York’s High Line Fuels Wave of Urban Renewal Projects
Free Enterprise Staff | October 7, 2014

When a handful of residents of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood banded together in 1999 to prevent the demolition of an abandoned elevated railway that hadn’t been used in two decades, a largely apathetic local government responded with muted skepticism. That group, however, turned out to be Friends of the High Line, the organization responsible for creating one of New York City’s most visited neighborhood attractions that has already spawned a number of similar urban renewal projects across the U.S.

Stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, the High Line runs through Chelsea near the Hudson River on Manhattan’s far west side. Since its first section opened in 2009, the High Line has won prestigious architecture and design awards and drawn an ever-growing number of New Yorkers and tourists alike, with nearly 5 million people visiting the elevated park in 2013, according to The New York Times. 

The High Line has also had a profound economic impact on the neighborhoods that surround it. According to a study conducted by Michael Levere, a PhD candidate in economics at UC San Diego, the High Line had a tangible effect on the value of homes located within one-third of a mile of it, leading to a 10% increase in housing prices.

His report, moreover, concluded that the city had recouped construction costs within a year, as the corresponding uptick in property taxes in 2010 “surpassed the cost of constructing the park itself.” Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also touted the success of the High Line in 2011, when he told a crowd that it had led to more than $2 billion in private investment, according to the Times.

Given the success of the High Line, both as a public works project and a local economic engine, it’s not surprising that cities across the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe are moving forward with plans to resurrect formerly blighted parks and train tracks. With a growing chorus of proponents pushing for this kind of urban renewal project, we’ve highlighted four cities that are moving closer to making their own High Line dreams a reality.


1. Chicago, Illinois  

Bloomingdale Trail and Park

In the Second City, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working alongside other public and private organizations to build the Bloomingdale Trail and Park, which promises to be the first linear park in the country’s third-largest city. At 2.7 miles, Chicago’s elevated park will be significantly longer than the High Line, spanning across four distinct neighborhoods. Like New York’s High Line, Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail and Park was once a bustling elevated train track that cut through the city’s urban center. The $95 million project, dubbed “the 606” by local residents, is expected to be completed by June 2015, according to Red Eye Chicago.

2. Detroit, Michigan

The Dequindre Cut Greenway

The Dequindre Cut Greenway is the latest project to gain traction in Detroit, which has seen a wave of private investment over the past few years. Previously a railway operated by the Grand Trunk Railroad, the 1.35-mile Dequindre Cut Greenway actually opened just before the High Line in 2009 near the city’s riverfront. Like New York’s elevated park, Dequindre Cut was made possible by a collaborative effort made up of private, public, and nonprofit organizations, and it has become a popular destination for the Motor City’s runners, bikers, and pedestrians.

3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Reading Viaduct Project

Originally constructed at the end of the 19th century, the Reading Viaduct stretches for a mile across the Callowhill and Chinatown North neighborhoods in the City of Brotherly Love, according to Untapped Cities. After more than a decade of planning, construction is slated to begin early next year on the first part of the project, which will initially transform a quarter-mile segment of the former railway into a landscaped public park. Both the city and state provided funding for the first leg of work, according to, and a private group led by Philly residents Sarah McEneaney and John Struble is currently raising money to fund maintenance and ongoing construction costs.

4. Atlanta, Georgia

The Beltline

Atlanta continues to be a city on the rise, and its Beltline project is the latest example of its ascent. The city, which fared well in on our recent rankings of the top cities to start a business, is spearheading an ambitious urban redevelopment project to provide local residents and out-of-towners with a massive network of public green spaces that, when completed, will encircle its entire downtown area. The project, which was originally thought up by a Georgia Tech student and whose first segment was completed two years ago, is built off of an existing 22-mile rail corridor and will ultimately include more than 33 miles of multi-use trails, according to its organizers. The result of a public-private partnership, the project will ultimately reclaim 3,000 acres of underutilized land and connect 45 neighborhoods in Georgia’s biggest city.