10.07.2014

One Man's Opinion of Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk (Philadelphia) vs. High Line (New York City)

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2129914/thumbs/o-SCHUYLKILL-BANKS-BOARDWALK-570.jpg?2http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/images/stories/large/2012/09/26/20120821Highline_BenC_6622.jpgThe Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk opened last week to great fanfare.  Billed as a "floating boardwalk," the place was soon overrun by joggers, bikers, and pedestrians taking in the gently curving path that juts out from the Schuylkill River.  Between this and well-used public space on the Delaware River waterfront (e.g. Spruce Street Harbor Park) and on the Ben Franklin Parkway (e.g. the Oval), Philly is hopping with great places for recreation and people watching.  As a consumer and a Philly booster, I'm pleased as punch.

I did find jarring, though, some claims that the Boardwalk is better than New York City's High Line.  Given how many accolades the High Line has received, it seems an audacious statement.  I figured I ought to check out the Boardwalk myself and then chime in with my opinion.  Fortunately, last weekend my family had a one-night staycation downtown, at Sheraton Center City, so I snuck out first thing in the morning and headed for the Boardwalk for a jog.  Here is my assessment, and it goes without saying that this is just my angle on what matters and how the two public spaces stack up.

I've scored both places on a five-point scale in six categories, for a total of 30 possible points.  Note that I have been to the Boardwalk all of one time, and the High Line all of twice, so a lot of these will be incompletes.

Aesthetics.  The thing's got to look good, right?  High Line is pretty, though perhaps still a little sterile.  Boardwalk is, well, functional.  It's not ugly, but nor does it dazzle. Boardwalk 2/5, High Line 4/5.

Comfort. Meaning is the thing safe, easy, and relaxing.  Take my assessment here with a grain of salt because I haven't gotten a chance to see how the places feel at different times of the day. Both seem relatively well-connected with their surrounding environs. High Line's higher number of entry points is offset by the fact that you need to go up a lot of stairs to get to it.  We'll call this a tie and a "we'll see." Boardwalk 3/5, High Line 3/5.

Hyper-local real estate market stimulant. You can pay for nice things that a whole region can enjoy just by capturing the increased property taxes generated by the invariable bump-up in nearby parcels.  In fact, this is happening in Chelsea, which was already a burgeoning neighborhood but is now super-hot because of the benefit of being near this really cool public amenity.  Boardwalk has some of this potential, but it's hard to beat a path that is literally interwoven in and on top of a neighborhood. Boardwalk 2/5, High Line 4/5.

People-watching. Again, this is going to have to be an incomplete because I haven't had enough time to see these places in action. However, High Line has to trump Boardwalk in this category, given how many places there are to sit, congregate, and laze the day away.  Boardwalk 2/5, High Line 4/5.


Scalability. Meaning how easy is it to add to, replicate, and mutate into something even more complex and wonderful. I'm out of my element opining here, but it does seem High Line has a little more potential for growth, although this may be offset by the higher complexity (and therefore cost) of adding length. Boardwalk 3/5, High Line 4/5.

Views. I wasn't super impressed with High Line's view lines - not enough sight lines to water, too many direct looks into the tops of buildings - although I can't say I've examined every single nook and angle.  Whether you like Boardwalk's views depends on whether you can get past the ugliness right around you - the western bank of the Schuylkill is just a highway, the eastern bank includes a rail line that sometimes has a trash train just idling there in all its rancid goodness - and marvel at the skylines and cranes in Center City and University City.  Let's call this a tie. Boardwalk 3/5, High Line 3/5.

Final score: Boardwalk 15, High Line 22.  It's not close, obviously, but the fact that you can even make the claim is promising.  Nice to know that we can have nice things in Philly, and glad so many are already enjoying them.









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