Essay writing season

This is the only season I know at the moment.  It is neither festive nor cheerful.  It is full of americanos and sleeping too late and feeling guilty for sleeping too late.  It is full of counterbalancing narratives and tragic re-reading sessions and terrible realizations about the theoretical incompatibility of ideas.  It is also full of light (and life) at the other end.

Right now I am working on an essay for ‘Matters of Nature’ the course for which I read Kipfer (on Lefebvre) and Swyngedouw (on Rancière).  I am trying to consolidate and rework material that I had gathered for my MA.  I am also trying to use this paper as a stepping stone to my 2012 AAG (American Assoc. of Geographers) paper to be delivered on a ‘Plant Geographies’ panel.  The subject/object: New York’s High Line.

At the moment I am trying to consider the problem of agency.  There are multiple ways of thinking about how the High Line (HL) came to be.  I am interested in who and/or what enacted the transformation of the space over time.  I am also interested in whether or not it would have been possible to deal with the HL through a politics or a strategy of human inaction; what is the politics of ‘doing nothing’?

The HL was constructed between 1929 and 1934 as a public safety intervention to deal with deaths being caused by trains that had been crossing at ground level along the West Side of Manhattan.  It functioned for nearly five decades to deliver raw materials to the doorways of factories and firms through which the structure ran.  My scope is not so large; what I am interested in is the period beginning around roughly 1980 when the structure was no longer being used for rail traffic.  This is when it began to be inhabited by ‘vagabond plants’ – industrious species of grass and wildflower that wandered around New York and found themselves taking up residence on the rocky, seemingly inhospitable terrain of the HL.  There are multiple other accounts of what else might have been going on at that time in, on, and around the HL.  These include: Sex in the shadows beneath, raves up top, drugs on the top, drunken parade goers sneaking up top and getting stuck…not to mention the migration of SoHo galleries up to Chelsea, one of the neighborhoods through which the HL passes.

As in my previous research on the west side waterfront of Manhattan, I am interested in understanding that which or who becomes enfolded (enrolled) in the reinvention of  ‘derelict’ spaces.  In this case, it begins (at a minimum) with two gay men – Robert Hammond and Josh David, founders of Friends of the High Line (the organization that would eventually become responsible for converting the structure into a publicly accessible ‘park’) – and a landscape of plants which helped them to capture the imaginations and the contributions of New York’s fashion, political, and economic elite.

My essay begins with the images taken by landscape photographer Joel Sternfeld in order to explore the enfolding of ‘wildness’ in the city and the taming of the unwieldy politics of neighborhood transformation gentrification.  And since this is where my essay begins, it is where this post ends.  See you on the flip side, lovers.

From the series "Walking the High Line"

Joel Sternfeld's "A Railroad Artifact, 30th Street, May 2000"

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