Salesforce Park & The High Line: a study in redevelopment

The High Line Railway in New York City was a true diamond in the rough.  Its redevelopment galvanized a larger movement in cities to reclaim underutilized infrastructure and reimagine them as public space.  This ‘High Line Network’ includes projects throughout the US.  Unfortunately, Salesforce Park is not on the list. 

Ned Kahn's dormant water feature

At its core, the Salesforce Park is a reimagining of the top of an old transit center.  Designers saw an opportunity to transform a turnstile for buses into a lush green oasis in the heart of SF.  With lofty ambitions comes high expectations.  Examining how people interact with the space will ultimately tell the story of the park.
Nothing is more important to using a park, then getting to it.  Salesforce Park has two main elevators at either end, two main escalators, and a gondola.  No stairs.  Stairs level the playing field for everyone.  People can pause on stairs, meet on stairs, go at their own pace.  The High Line has wide stairways that accommodate the thousands of people that visit it every year.  At Salesforce Park, machines throttle the flow of people.  One rarely hears “let’s get in the elevator” and “let’s go to the park” in the same sentence.  Machines are great for security and keeping out the homeless but bad for access.

In the name of art, a 1,000 ft water sculpture lines one edge of Salesforce Park.  The designers built a 5’ deep bed for drought tolerant plants alongside the fountain.  They shield the plants from view [and excess water] with 5’ tall plexiglass panels.  Moms encourage their kids to stay out of the fountain zone so they don’t get wet.  That’s 10,000 square feet of space where space is at a premium.
There is more to the park than the fountain.  Lots of no mow, low water grass with signs to stay off.  Lots of domes – a la the California Academy of Sciences – where people are off limits.  The planting is similar to museum exhibits; groupings of plants with master signs and big railings to keep viewers back.
Salesforce Park feels like a museum that opened a long time ago.  Like a place that has the Hope Diamond on display, with security cameras, people queuing up to get in, and VIP receptions.  Except New York has the real crown jewel of raised parks.

Access is hot topic for green spaces and redevelopment in general.  Ideally, all walks of life are encouraged to use parks and enjoy nature equally.  To that end, The Friends of The High Line operates the NYC park.  The name just sounds happy and fluffy, like a wagging Newfoundland. Sure, Friends of The High Line has received its share of criticism about park programming.  That’s New York and that’s healthy.  Biederman Redevelopment Ventures operates Salesforce Park.  They transformed New York's Bryant Park into a safe vibrant place.  They’re organizing a whole host of free activities in the park. Let’s see how they do.