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Why comparisons with the Highline are a double-edged sword...

While we try not to make comparisons with the New York Highline the media seem to love the hook.

Of course it’s flattering to be compared to the successful and popular park however, despite still being on the drawing board, the Peckham Coal Line is already a plainly different proposal. Yes the idea shares the simple concept - to turn disused rail infrastructure into an elevated park, just as the Highline shared its vision with the Promenade Plantee in Paris and our very own Parkland Walk here in London. We’ve also benefited from the support of many local businesses, volunteers and residents thanks to their positive experience of visiting the Highline.

However first and foremost (and before any spade is planted) the Coal Line is about creating a community network around the idea. We meet, plan talk and work together tapping the wealth of local enthusiasm and skills available to move the project forward which in turn leads to a resilient, aware and better connected neighborhood.

So while the headlines that declare the Coal Line as London’s Highline might be seductive in the short term, long term they risk detracting from the value of the project, implying The Coal Line is replicating a ‘Highline’ concept when in truth the projects have very different origins, context and purpose that is unique to Peckham.

As well as the community benefits, the Coal Line will create a bridge that will link a walking and cycling network extending over 5km across South London. It will become a park that is as useful as it is beautiful; not just a destination for tourists but a connection that’s used by many residents every day.

In his article 12th September Tim Richardson compares the Coal Line to the Highline however he also writes a really useful comparison between the projects:

Coal Line: the plan is to keep the semi-wild atmosphere of the derelict rail line.

High Line: existing vegetation has been erased in favour of all-singing, all-dancing architecture and plantings.

Coal Line: a viable and useful transport link for locals and commuters, cutting the length of the current route from 1,500m to 900m.

High Line: many New Yorkers say it’s solely a tourist attraction.

Coal Line: a grassroots community project created by locals who want to improve the area.

High Line: enthusiastically backed by property owners in the run-down Lower West Side, who realised that real-estate values and rents would soar as a result.

Coal Line: the business opportunities created, in the railway arches, for example, will be small-scale and in keeping with the community’s needs.

High Line: the area quickly became upscale, squeezing out several local businesses.

What the Highline has shown us is what is achievable against all odds. Joshua David and Robert Hammond record their journey in a book and their dedication and tenacity is certainly an inspiration to many of us working on this project.

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