New York's New Edge Contemporary Art, the High Line, and Urban Megaprojects on the Far West Side
by David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso
University of Chicago Press, 2014
Cloth: 978-0-226-03240-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-37906-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-03254-2
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.001.0001


The story of New York’s west side no longer stars the Sharks and the Jets. Instead it’s a story of urban transformation, cultural shifts, and an expanding contemporary art scene.  The Chelsea Gallery District has become New York’s most dominant neighborhood for contemporary art, and the streets of the west side are filled with gallery owners, art collectors, and tourists. Developments like the High Line, historical preservation projects like the Gansevoort Market, the Chelsea galleries, and plans for megaprojects like the Hudson Yards Development have redefined what is now being called the “Far West Side” of Manhattan.

David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso offer a deep analysis of the transforming district in New York’s New Edge, and the result is a new understanding of how we perceive and interpret culture and the city in New York’s gallery district. From individual interviews with gallery owners to the behind-the-scenes politics of preservation initiatives and megaprojects, the book provides an in-depth account of the developments, obstacles, successes, and failures of the area and the factors that have contributed to them.


David Halle is professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the summer travel program, UCLA in New York: Cities and Cultures. He is also an adjunct professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center and School of Professional Studies and the author of America's Working Man and Inside Culture, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Elisabeth Tiso is an art historian who has taught at Parsons, Fordham University, and UCLA in New York.  She has published reviews and articles on contemporary art and architecture in Art in AmericaArtNews MagazineParole gelées, and other academic publications.


"New York’s New Edge is an absolutely brilliant contribution to the sociology of art, urban sociology, and urbanism. This is one of the very best sociological texts that I have read in ages. I highly recommend it to all those who are interested in Manhattan’s Far West Side transformations."
— Alain Quemin, Université Paris VIII

“Focusing on the now-booming district of the Far West Side, sociologist David Halle and art historian Elisabeth Tiso offer a substantial and eminently sensible analysis of why development in Giuliani and Bloomberg-era Manhattan evolved as it did. Their compelling history of the present, resolutely opposed to sloganeering ‘tale-of-two-cities’ explanations, reveals through specifics the people and institutional structures involved with area galleries and built environment projects, and the circumstances that resulted in success or failure. All students of cities will learn much from this engrossing book.”
— Michele H. Bogart, Stony Brook University

“In New York’s New Edge (the title may be understood literally as referring to the city’s far west side and metaphorically) David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso interweave three complex histories: the rise of Chelsea as the world’s premier gallery district; iconic preservation projects such as the High Line; and mega real estate projects such as Hudson Yards. Their reading of each is nuanced, cutting through many of the ‘accepted wisdoms’ of the day. Their purpose is to analyze what makes for a reasonable balance between healthy urban growth and preservation. This book is a must for planners, politicians, and anyone with an interest in the future of cities.”
— Harriet F. Senie, author of The “Tilted Arc” Controversy: Dangerous Precedent?

“The link between the contemporary art scene in Chelsea and the development of an edge neighborhood of restaurants, hotels, and new housing is detailed and superbly analyzed by David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso. The preservation of the High Line and creation of the Gansevoort Market Historic District led to extraordinary change. In New York's New Edge the relation of cultural identity to people, planning, and politics is made personal and comprehensible by surprising anecdotes and insightful commentary.”
— Rick Bell, Executive Director, AIA New York and the Center for Architecture

New York’s New Edge offers a retrospective on three case studies in urban and cultural development begun under the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with lessons for Mayor Bill de Blasio.”
— New York Times

“This hefty tome will surely pique the interest of anyone who fancies art, the urban, or how the two come together in the City That Never Sleeps. . . . The authors have done a marvelous job of weaving together their respective specialties—sociology for Halle and art history for Tiso—to produce a text that gives ample consideration to the present as well as to the historical development of a particular slice of the Big Apple. This is a fantastic example of collaboration and interdisciplinarity, and the authors have clearly penned a thoroughly engaging text that ought to have broad appeal to scholars, activists, and avid readers. Highly recommended.”
— Choice



DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0000
[Contemporary Art, New York, High Line, Hudson Yards, Gansevoort Market, Moynihan Station, Javits Center, Jane Jacobs, Bloomberg, Planning]
New York has always been a city characterized by the new and innovative. This book is about the Far West Side of Manhattan, the latest frontier for no less than three urban and cultural developments. These involve creating, in Chelsea, the largest commercial art gallery district in the world; turning a disused above ground rail line, the High Line, into the city's most visited park; and wrestling with a series of mega projects including a plan to develop the Hudson Yards which contains the largest unbuilt site in Manhattan, and to renovate Penn Station- the busiest train station in the country--to be renamed Moynihan Station. These three developments each raise critical issues about how to foster urban growth while limiting growth's negative consequences especially so as avoid mistakes of the past. Each also, when carefully examined, explodes some key myths whose false underpinnings mostly only appear in the kind of detailed accounts represented by the case studies in this book. (pages 1 - 18)

Part I. Contemporary Art

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0001
[Gagosian, Matthew Marks, Globalization, Hurricane Sandy, David Zwirner, DIA Foundation, Chelsea, Pace Wildenstein,, Sotheby's]
The rise of Chelsea, and decline of SoHo, as New York’s dominant contemporary art gallery neighborhood is a real estate and financial story primarily, albeit a fascinating one. Told in this chapter, it is about rents and land ownership and talented entrepreneurial gallery owners such as Matthew Marks, Paul Cooper and Larry Gagosian, and the price of art compared with designer clothing. We call this the first story about contemporary art. The art world is in flux, and three major developments are challenging the commercial gallery model dominant in Chelsea, though none has yet displaced it. These developments are the Internet, art fairs, and competition from the mega auction houses especially Sotheby's and Christie's. These developments also bear centrally on the question of "globalization" in the art world and its extent. (pages 21 - 90)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0002
[Contemporary Art, Damien Hirst, Nigel Cooke, Robert Adams, Ellsworth Kelly, Gregory Crewdson, Bill Owens, Lisa Yuskavage, Cecily Brown, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg]
From 2001-2007 it became increasingly tempting to consider financial gain as the dominant dynamic underlying interest in art, especially Contemporary Art. Yet for the vast majority of the audience for Chelsea art, as interviews reveal, the art is of interest not as investment but above all because it resonates with on-going, often major, issues in their lives. The main issues with which the art and audience engage include the landscape, both as the classic “beautiful view” to be enjoyed, and as an endangered resource; the abstract and decorative, which is at least partly about brightening people’s lives; the modern family and interpersonal life, both typically seen as problematic; sex and erotic life; the role of everyday consumer items in social life; political issues; questions about the basic constituent material of the world; the poor and disadvantaged; and religion. Even for most “collectors,” those who purchase the works, the art attracts primarily for these reasons rather than for its investment potential, although a sizeable number of collectors, having decided they like a work enough to buy it, are then careful to make sure the price is reasonable. (pages 91 - 148)

Part II. “Preservation” Projects

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0003
[High Line, Robert Hammond, Friends of the High Line, Starchitects, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Neil Denari, Robert Stern, Avenue School, Florent Morellet, Diller Scofidio]
The High Line by 2011 become New York's most visited park. It provides a series of lessons. It succeeded because almost from the start it was adopted by a pair of visionary advocates, Robert Hammond and Josh David, who happened to be young, with the talent and persistence to shape the project and also work creatively with the political processes. The High Line also shows the difficulty of controlling and limiting history. It's striking views featured an eclectic variety: close-ups of innovative new condo buildings by the world’s “starchitects” and old “historic” buildings especially warehouses although these were dwindling in number. The new, “starchitect-designed” condos appeared because the Bloomberg administration concluded that in order to overcome opposition to the project from a powerful group who owned the land under and adjoining the High Line and had organized as the “Chelsea property owners”, it needed to rezone much of the area to allow major condominium developments, to which the Chelsea property owners could then sell their air rights. Still, perhaps this was not a bad thing. It somewhat offset New York’s reputation, earned over the previous three decades, for mediocre new architecture. Nor did the new condos directly displace poor or working class people in any “classic gentrification” process, since they were built on land previously zoned for manufacturing and containing warehouses and similar structures, not residences. As architect Rem Koolhaas put it, preservation projects that succeed often do so “because the ‘preserved’, when we choose to preserve it, is not embalmed but continues to stay alive and evolve.” (pages 151 - 179)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0004
[Gansevoort Market, Gansevoort Hotel, Google, Apple, Florent, Standard Hotel, Stella McCartney, Pastis, Landmarks Commission, Whitney Museum]
In the mid-1980s the Gansevoort Market District began a slow evolution from basically an area where raw meat was packed and sold during the day, while at night activities such as prostitution and transgendered sexual interaction occurred. Then in 2003 the city’s Landmarks Commission designated the area as the Gansevoort Market Historic District. Instead of slowing change, the 2003 landmarking boosted the Market District, which now gained enormous cache. It became home to a cascade of super-trendy designer stores, and a major tourist destination. There is also the question of how much this mattered. The city ended up replacing one no-longer viable source of jobs—meatpacking—with a new tourist attraction which brought in revenue and jobs and then had the aura to attract titans of the new computer industry like Google and Apple. By 2011 the city was proudly announcing its new, high technology “ecosystem” corridor, stretching east from Google and Apple around the Gansevoort Market to start-up high tech businesses located in lofts between sixth and fifth avenues. This created the mix of old and new buildings which Jane Jacobs saw as one key ingredient of a vibrant neighborhood and which architects, using a similar concept of a “layered” city, often view as the solution to balancing preservation and growth. (pages 180 - 212)

Part III. Megaprojects: Why They Often Don’t Happen or Take So Long If They Do, from Javits Expansion to Moynihan Station and Hurricane Sandy

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0005
[Javits Center, Robert Boyle, Patrick Foye, Bloomberg, Giuliani, Casino, Spitzer, Richard Rogers, Larry Silverstein, HOK]
In 2004 Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki announced a plan to transform the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side. The program was a synthesis of three main parts. First, expanding the Javits Convention Center from the 18th largest in the country to the 5th largest. Second, a massive rezoning of 310 acres from industrial to commercial (basically offices) and residential. Third, constructing a “New York Sports and Convention Center” (NYSCC). Yet currently (2012), seven years after the Hudson Yards 2004 announcement, only one of its three parts, the massive rezoning, has happened. For example, the major Javits expansion was botched. New York City is widely agreed to have great difficulty pulling off mega projects nowadays, and these particular projects, when scrutinized as case studies, suggest why. The most common explanation for failed mega projects assigns blame mainly to neighborhood/community opposition, often viewed as Nimbyist (Not in my Backyard). This chapter, and the next three, suggest a broader view. Mega projects are hard to pull off because several key things can go wrong and become “blocking factors,” of which local/neighborhood opposition is only one. This multi-causal view makes sense since mega projects are, by definition, large and complex and therefore subject to a variety of possible problems. (pages 215 - 245)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0006
[New York Sports and Convention Center, Jets Football team, Sheldon Silver, Madison Square Garden, James Dolan, Pataki, Daniel Doctoroff, Amanda Burden, Olympic Games]
The battle over the New York Sports and Convention Center (NYSCC)was probably the most bitterly fought issue in New York for decades. Supporters and opponents spent over $30m on media campaigns, an unprecedented sum for a single issue in New York. This was the only one, of the three Hudson Yards projects and the Moynihan Station project, that met significant neighborhood opposition, the factor so often publicly blamed for the failure of mega projects. Yet even the NYSCC survived such opposition, only to be finally vetoed by State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver in June 2005 for reasons that likely had as much if not more to do with three other blocking factors-- the virulent opposition of a private corporation (Cable Vision), political lobbying/cronyism, and squabbles between politicians (e.g. Silver’s concern that the Hudson Yards would draw jobs from his downtown constituency, e.g. rival candidates for the 2005 mayoral election). There were, of course, many NYSCC opponents, especially residents of Manhattan’s West Side, who considered the stadium project could not stand on its merits and deservedly failed, a view we consider in detail here. Still, few of even those opponents would argue that Silver’s veto was cast strictly on the proposal’s merits. (pages 246 - 268)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0007
[Related, Coach , Hudson Yards, MTA, Affordable housing, Inclusionary zoning, High Line, ULURP]
The Hudson Yards rezoning proceeded in two stages, between 2004-9. The largest stage rezoned a huge area of about 301 acres from manufacturing and commercial, to mostly commercial/offices plus some residential. A second stage was limited to the Western railyards, once intended as the site of the NYSCC. Here the MTA gave building rights to the developer Related in exchange for receiving rent over a 99 year period. Related’s project, which also included the Eastern railyards, is gigantic, roughly 4 times the square footage of Related’s already huge Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. These two Hudson Yards rezonings are also an opportunity to discuss the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process, which is a reasonable procedure that allows for considerable local and community discussion and negotiation over major local land-use proposals, while limiting uncontrolled Nimbyism. In the case of the Hudson Yards, a particularly sensible outcome of the ULURP process was that, reflecting Community Board pressure, the city added a large amount of "affordable housing” to both rezonings. An important part of this was zoning for inclusionary housing, so this is an opportunity to discuss such inclusionary zoning, the city's latest response to its almost perennial crisis of affordable housing. (pages 269 - 313)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0008
[Penn Station, Moynihan Station, Infrastructure, High Speed Rail, Mega Projects, Port Authority, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit]
The attempt to move Penn Station one block west to the Farley Post Office building is among New York City’s most important mega projects of the period. Penn Station is the busiest passenger transportation facility in the United States by far., Yet it is located in what is widely considered a dreary facility at Penn Plaza, an urban complex between Seventh and Eighth Avenue and 31st to 33rd streets. In 1992 the architectural-engineering firm HOK first proposed moving Penn Station across Eighth Avenue into the Farley Post Office, a building constructed in the same, grand style, as the original Penn Station, torn down in 1963. This project, widely acclaimed as a way of rectifying that 1963 act of desecration, later became known as the “Moynihan Station” proposal after New York’s U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan who first obtained Federal funding for it. Implementing the vision has been a long, still unfinished, struggle. This chapter explains how a series of now familiar, mega project blocking factors, delayed the project. This saga also illustrates a general, well known difficulty in the United States of achieving major infrastructure projects nowadays. In 2010 the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that the US needed to spend $2.2 trillion just to maintain the quality of its mostly already second-rate infrastructure. (pages 314 - 344)

Part IV. The Challenges to Chelsea’s Art Gallery District from the Lower East Side

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0009
[Lower East Side, New Museum, Bowery, Galleries, Martha Rossler, Sarah Lucas, Woodward Gallery, Lehmann Maupin]
By early 2008 the possibility of the Lower East Side supplanting Chelsea was widely discussed. A rush of new galleries had opened there. Still, by 2009-10 most Chelsea gallery owners believed that the Lower East Side faced major obstacles if it was to replace Chelsea. For one thing, it lacked enough suitable spaces to accommodate the mass of Chelsea galleries. Also, that most star Chelsea galleries owned their own spaces insulated them from a repeat of the massive rent rises that, after 1995, undermined SoHo as New York’s dominant gallery district. A second issue is that it was a non-profit, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, opening with a new, brash building on the Bowery in 2007, that catalysed the LES’s possible emergence as a major commercial art gallery center, just as the non-profit DIA foundation catalyzed Chelsea in the mid-1990s. Here yet again is the crucial role non-profits often play in American cultural developments. A third issue raised by the Lower East Side is that of “edgy” art and galleries, reflected in the widespread claim that the new Lower East Side art scene was basically superior to, Chelsea in cutting edge ways. This was a corollorary of the claim that Chelsea had become “corporate,” which, as discussed in chapter 1, conflated a complex situation composed of some features that merited the term and some that did not. (pages 347 - 381)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032542.003.0010
[Preservation, Urban Growth, Jane Jacobs]
The three main types of projects considered here—Chelsea’s commercial art gallery district; preservation projects represented by the High Line and Gansevoort Meat Market; and mega projects including the Javits expansion, Hudson Yards rezoning, and Moynihan Station—are together a case study of the crucial process of trying to foster urban growth and positive change while protecting against change that is destructive and undesirable including displacing vulnerable residents. Achieving a reasonable balance is complicated and difficult, for several reasons. A case study can uncover the subtleties and complexities of the process, and for several key features is the only way to do so. Several one-sided and extreme approaches to balancing urban growth and protection have been promoted. These, on either end of the debate ranging from “fundamentalist preservationism” to “unbridled development,” imply simple solutions to balancing problems that are typically neither simple nor easy. (pages 382 - 404)


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