Are High Line Copycats the Next ‘Bilbao Effect’?

Since the opening of New York’s High Line park just under two years ago, we’ve been privy to mountains of other cities declaring that they soon would begin thinking about constructing their own version of project, proudly saying that “This will be [insert city name here]’s High Line!” We’re apparently not the only ones who have seen this phenomenon, as Slate’s resident architecture critic, Witold Rybczynski, recently moonlighted over on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times, with his piece, “Bringing the High Line Back to Earth.”

In it, an on the eve of next month’s much anticipated opening of the second portion of the High Line, Rybczynski thinks the hype about bringing similar projects to other cities across the country might be overblown, much in the same way The Bilbao Effect found lots of cities thinking they needed to spend millions on starchitect-designed buildings. One of his chief arguments is that the High Line worked so well because it already had a concentrated, urban audience in place, unlike in a place guided by sprawl, like Phoenix or any big city in Florida. He writes, “…the High Line’s success may seem to be an instance of ‘build it and they will come,’ in New York, as in Paris, ‘they’ are already there.”

But no matter this and other warnings, the critic fears that warnings won’t be heeded, copies will be built and “we will soon be adding elevated parks” to a list of expensive and failed civic projects.