When I first came across Highbridge Park
(shortly after moving to Washington Heights
) all I could think was: "how did this happen?" Here was an urban oasis
on the order of Central Park
. 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:
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
along the wide boardwalk
s in top hat
s and bustle
s. 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 playground
s 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 carnival
s held in the park. When African American
and Latin American
families began moving in to the surrounding neighborhoods the white residents fled
for the suburb
s 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 prostitute
s and drug dealer
s. 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.