When I first came across Highbridge Park (shortly after moving to Washington Heights, Manhattan) all I could think was: "how did this happen?" Here was an urban oasis on the order of Central Park in ruins. I started to do some research.

Basically, Highbridge Park has fallen off of the radar of New York City for nearly 30 years. This is strange considering it is:

1. Huge
2. A park
3. In Manhattan

Walking through the park fills me with a sense of despair—It’s like we’ve forgotten what a metropolis is supposed to be. It’s evident that the city of New York simply gave up on this part of the city for many years. The park is a classic example of planned shrinkage, the idea that reducing social services in poverty stricken areas will eventually cause the population of that area to dwindle: making it easier for new construction. (Planned shrinkage is one of the many causes of urban decay)

What is the history of the park? The land for Highbridge Park was acquired beginning in 1865 from the city Water Commission. The park grew over the next 50 years. Upper-middle class New Yorkers would promenade along the wide boardwalks in top hats and bustles. The park provided access to the Harlem River and places for horseback riding and other outdoor sports. In the 1890s the City of New York built a racetrack along the river (for horses) known as the Harlem River Speedway. In 1940 Robert Moses turned it into a 6-lane highway from the Manhattan end of the Triborough Bridge to the tunnels under Manhattan connected to George Washington Bridge. This highway blocked access to the riverfront. Robert Moses also built a huge swimming pool and several playgrounds in the park. By this time, Higbridge was a park for working class emigrant families. Many people have fond memories of the pool and the carnivals held in the park. When African American and Latin American families began moving in to the surrounding neighborhoods the white residents fled for the suburbs and the city stopped taking care of the park.

Why is it called Highbridge Park? There is a foot bridge (pedestrians only) in the park that connects the Bronx to Manhattan. It’s called The Highbridge and is the namesake of the park. It’s the oldest bridge in New York city, built in 1848. It was closed in the 70s because a boy threw a rock off of it and hit a tourist in a boat. There is nothing wrong with it structurally—the city was just unwilling to deal with the crime problems in the park so they basically fenced it off —much of the park remains fenced off even today.

The rock throwing incident was one of many widely reported crimes that heightened racial and class tensions in the city during the 70s-- Many people felt cheated when the bridge was closed. If wealthy citizens had lived in the area many people reasoned-- the city would have kept the bridge open and the park in good repair. The bridges for cars were expanded during this time, but they city could not find the funds to add safety rails to the bride so that it could be "safely" used again.

A search of google for Highbridge Park returns the New York Restoration Project who has been working over the past few years (since 2000 or so) to restore the park. When they first started it was filled with dumped cars and was a haven for prostitutes and drug dealers. Much of the trash has been removed, but the twisted lamp posts the cracked steps and graffiti (which covers every stone or concrete surface in sight) still speak of what the park has been through.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.