Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper draws on several years of ethnographic and other research on the history, design, and use of High Line, the celebrated elevated park running along Manhattan’s west side, to conceptualize urban power in the postindustrial city in a manner that moves beyond neoliberalism. The High Line, both as a particular public space and an exemplar of public space, has often been portrayed as reproducing the privatizing, exclusionary, consumerist, and logics of neoliberalization: in other words, it is more of the same. This paper argues against such interpretations. It proposes instead that what emerges on the High Line is a form of power that arranges people, things, actions, affects, and sensorial perceptions to maintain the productivity and orderliness of already neoliberalized and luxurified urban space. Distinguished by the constitutive productivity of ambiguity, ambivalence, and ambience, this form of power must be understood as responding to the political-economic contradictions endemic to such spaces. Particularly important are the tensions between the ideological, functional, and economic need for places like the High Line to be open and inclusive, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, subject to mechanisms of control that generate order and social value that can be captured by capital. Material from ethnographic and other analyses illustrate how this operates in a variety of registers along the High Line, including its temporality, verticality, morphology, and programming. The paper ends with a discussion of possible political and policy responses to the dynamics and situation it illustrates.