Robert Hammond is stepping down as executive director of Friends of the High Line, the advocacy group dedicated to New York City’s famed elevated park, according to a Monday night newsletter announcement.
The first portion of the High Line, a one-mile park stretching along a former railway through Manhattan’s lower west side, opened in 2009 largely thanks to the lobbying efforts of the non-profit, which Hammond had co-founded with writer Joshua David 10 years prior.
Since then, the High Line has enjoyed more buzz than perhaps any other green space in the city, opening a second section in 2011, sparking back-and-forth discussion in the New York Times Opinion pages, appearing on TV shows like Girls and inspiring other cities to rethink potential uses for their own derelict infrastructure. Last year, four and a half million people visited the so recently abandoned railway, making it the city’s second most popular attraction.
“This is an exciting, but bittersweet moment for me,” Hammond wrote in his goodbye email. “Together we have worked tirelessly to build the High Line, and to make it the beloved public place it has become, but the time has come for me to move on.”
Friends of the High Line proved more than capable of mustering the resources to save the rusted, unused piece of infrastructure — one that many at the time had written off as destined for the scrap yard — into a beloved urban park.
“I don’t know what I had expected,” Hammond wrote in High Line, he and David’s oral history of the park, about his first impressions atop the then-abandoned railway. “I just didn’t expect wildflowers. This was not a few blades of grass growing up through gravel. The wildflowers and plants had taken over. We had to wade through waist-high Queen Anne’s lace. It was another world, right in the middle of Manhattan.”
(The endeavor would soon prove plenty lucrative for Hammond, a longtime West Village resident and erstwhile start-up entrepreneur, as the Times reported two months after the first section opened.)
Hammond had clearly taken a hint from three-mile Promenade plantée in Paris, which has functioned as a park since 1993. But his success in New York has prompted at least three other U.S. cities to consider building a High Line-esque green spaces: The Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia, the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago and the Trestle in St. Louis, all of which are only proposals at this stage.
Friends of the High Line provides nearly all of the park’s annual operating budget and shares maintenance responsibilities with the city, having entering into one of the most prominent examples of a public-private partnership forged for the sake of a New York City park.
It’s now up to the group’s board of directors to select a new executive director for Friends of the High Line. We welcome any and all speculation in the comments.
To learn more about the High Line and other emerging elevated parks projects, come to a moderated panel discussion with High Line officials and others on April 29 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.