The High Line: A Debate

Photo by Timothy Schenck/Courtesy of Friends of the High Line

Recognizing the High Line with a prize in urban design that is housed in the Department of Urban Planning and Design, in which social equity issues loom large, comes with a responsibility to acknowledge both the project’s successes and the occasional criticisms that have been leveled against it. In conjunction with the 2017 Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design, a panel discussion with some of those most closely involved with realizing the High Line will allow a deeper understanding of its value as an urban design prototype being disseminated and adopted worldwide.


The panel will feature John Alschuler, Stephen Gray, Joshua David (Co-Founder, Friends of the High Line), Robert Hammond (Co-Founder, Friends of the High Line) and Belinda Tato and be moderated by Diane Davis.

This panel follows an opening celebration on Wednesday, November 14 including remarks in the GSD’s Piper Auditorium followed by a reception in the Druker Design Gallery.



Diane E. Davis is the Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Development and Urbanism and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Before to moving to the GSD in 2011, Davis served as the head of the International Development Group in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, where she also had a term as Associate Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. Trained as a sociologist, Davis’s research interests include the relations between urbanization and national development, comparative urban governance, socio-spatial practice in conflict cities, urban violence, and new territorial manifestations of sovereignty. Her books include Transforming Urban Transport (with Alan Altshuler) (Oxford University Press, 2018), Cities and Sovereignty: Identity Conflicts in the Urban Realm(Indiana University Press, 2011), Discipline and Development: Middle Classes and Prosperity in East Asia and Latin America(Cambridge University Press, 2004; named the ASA’s 2005 Best Book in Political Sociology), Irregular Armed Forces and their Role in Politics and State Formation (Cambridge University Press, 2003), Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century (Temple University Press 1994; Spanish translation 1999).

A prior recipient of research fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the United States Institute for Peace, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Davis recently authored a study of Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Violence, prepared for USAID, which examines the coping and adapting strategies adopted by citizens and authorities to push back against violence in seven cities around the world. She has just completed two separate initiatives, for which she was Principal Investigator: a three year project funded by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) focused on the role of political leadership in transforming urban transport and a three year project funded by Mexico’s national workers’ housing agency (INFONAVIT) oriented toward developing more sustainable social housing policies for Mexican cities. Founder and curator of the Mexican Cities Initiative at Harvard’s GSD, Davis is Chair of the David Rockefeller Center’s Faculty Committee on Mexico, member of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) Executive Committee, and  a contributing editor for the US Library of Congress, Handbook of Latin American Studies(Sociology: Mexico). She has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Planning Education and ResearchCity and Community, and the Journal of Latin American Studies.



John Alschuler is the Chairman of HR&A Advisors, a national real estate and economic development consultancy.  For two generations, he has worked with cities, civic organizations, and developers to solve complex urban development challenges and create financing strategies for distinctive places like the High Line, the Boston Waterfront, DC’s City Center, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Daniel Island. His ability to build effective partnerships between the public and private sectors has aided the reinvention of American cities into urban centers that offer jobs and sustain a high quality of life for diverse communities. John and HR&A played a key role in the preservation and transformation of the High Line and in 2009 he was elected Board Chair of Friends of the High Line. John served as Chair Emeritus from 2014 to 2017 and now continues to serve on its Board. John also serves on the boards of the Center for an Urban Future, SL Green Realty Corporation as its Lead Independent Director, Macerich, and Xenia Hotels & Resorts. John holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University and a Doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.


Stephen Gray is an Assistant Professor of Urban Design at Harvard Graduate School of Design. His interests center on understanding political and cultural contexts of urban design; socio-ecological urban design approaches to resilience; and the intersectionality of humanitarian aid and urban design. Current projects include the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative where his team blends archival and design research methods to foreground systemic racism in the physical and geospatial development of Boston; process design for the co-creation of child-focused spaces with Syrian refugees; and research with the World Bank examining the interconnectedness of social, natural, and spatial systems as they relate to informality, vulnerability, and resilience.

Stephen has experience working in complex urban environments with municipal agencies, colleges and universities, private developers, non-profits, and the public. He is co-chairman of Boston’s 100 Resilient Cities Resilience Collaborative providing thought leadership for “Resilient Boston: An Equitable and Connected City” as Boston works to adopt a resilience lens for all planning, policies, and practice. Prior to joining the GSD, Stephen collaborated with and led cross-disciplinary teams at Sasaki on projects ranging broadly from strategic reinvestment in downtown Wichita, to parks planning for the City of Bridgeport, advanced online engagement for the GoBoston 2030 mobility master plan, urban design visions for downtown Raleigh and uptown Cincinnati, and resilience planning for South Shore Long Island in post-Sandy New York.

Stephen has been a lecturer at MIT School of Architecture + Planning and Northeastern University School of Architecture, Associate Director on the Board of the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), and he has been tapped to serve on several Urban Land Institute (ULI) advisory panels. He holds a B. Arch. Degree from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design (MAUD) Degree with distinction from Harvard University where he received the Thesis Prize for Urban Design and the Award for Outstanding Leadership in Urban Design. In 2015, Stephen was recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for his contributions to urban design thinking in the U.S. context with the National AIA Honor Award, the highest honor given to individual associate AIA members.


Robert Hammond is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit conservancy that he co-founded with Joshua David in 1999. Friends of the High Line raises 98% of the High Line’s $14-million-dollar annual operating budget to maintain, operate, and program the park. To date, Friends of the High Line has raised over $300 million in public and private funding.

With more than 7.6 million visitors annually, the High Line is one of New York City’s top destinations. It offers more than 400 free public programs each year and has presented works by more than 120 artists.

Before the High Line, Hammond supported the launch of online businesses in the public health and travel commerce industries, and worked as a consultant for an array of organizations, including the Times Square Alliance, and Alliance for the Arts.

He was awarded the Vincent Scully Prize (2013), the Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome (2010), the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal, along with David (2010), and an honorary doctorate from The New School (2012). Hammond is also a self-taught artist and served as an ex-officio member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees, and a graduate of Princeton University.

Additionally, Hammond is a co-producer of the film Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, which premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and was the opening-night selection for DOC NYC. Released via IFC in April 2017, the film chronicles a clash between mid-20th-century urban planning methods, and chronicles how they relate to today’s urban renaissance.


Joshua David co-founded Friends of the High Line with Robert Hammond in 1999 to save the High Line, a historic elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side, then under threat of demolition.  Under his leadership, Friends of the High Line successfully advocated for the preservation and reuse of the High Line as a public park, transformed and opened the High Line structure to the public in three phases, became a fully licensed partner of the City of New York, and raised more than $350 million in private and public funds for the park’s construction, endowment, and annual maintenance and operations.

Since opening in 2009, the High Line has become a leading model for community-driven adaptive reuse, and Joshua’s work on behalf of the park has been recognized by civic and professional groups worldwide.  In 2010, he and Robert Hammond received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. In 2013, Joshua and Robert received the Vincent Scully Prize.
After leading Friends of the High Line for 16 years, most recently as President, Joshua stepped down from his staff role at the organization in 2015.  He began a new role as President of World Monuments Fund in November 2015, leading WMF’s efforts to protect against the loss of the world’s architectural heritage, including the built environment, the artistic elements that enhance it, and the cultural traditions that it sustains.

A longtime Chelsea resident, Joshua is a member of the Advisory Council of Transportation Alternatives, which works to reclaim New York City’s streets from cars and to promote bicycling, walking, and public transit.  He is a founding board member of + Pool, which is working to build the world’s first water-filtering floating swimming pool.  He also continues to serve Friends of the High Line as a board member. Before co-founding Friends of the High Line, Joshua worked as a freelance magazine writer and editor for Gourmet, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Wallpaper*, and others.


Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo are founding members of ecosistema urbano, a Madrid based group of architects and urban designers operating within the fields of urbanism, architecture, engineering and sociology.  Vallejo and Tato define their approach as urban social design, by which they understand the design of environments, spaces and dynamics in order to improve the self-organization of citizens, social interaction within communities and their relationship with the environment. Ecosistema urbano has used this philosophy to design and implement projects in Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France and China.

Ecosistema urbano’s principal members were educated in several different European universities and come from many diverse urban environments (Madrid, London, Brussels, Rome, Paris). They have taught as visiting professors and have given workshops and lectures at the most prestigious institutions worldwide (Harvard, Yale, UCLA, Cornell, Iberoamericana, RIBA, Copenhagen, Munich, Paris, Milan, Shanghai, to list a few). They did this while implementing urban action and intervention in cities in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Since 2000, their work has been nationally and internationally awarded on more than 30 occasions. In 2005 ecosistema urbano received the European Acknowledgement Award from the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. In 2006, they were awarded the Architectural Association and the Environments, Ecology and Sustainability Research Cluster award. In 2007 they were nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture / Mies van der Rohe Award for emerging European architects. They were also selected out of more than 400 teams from around the world to receive an AR Award for Emerging Architecture in London, 2007. In 2008 ecosistema urbano won the Arquia/Próxima prize, awarded by the Caja de Arquitectos Foundation to the best project drawn up by young architects from 2006-2007. In 2009, they were nominated from more than 500 teams to be a worldwide finalist and recipient of the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction, Silver Award.

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