Chinatown's Mini High Line Delayed Until 2014

By Julie Shapiro on January 12, 2012 1:36pm 

Xu Bing creates calligraphy that looks like Chinese but is actually English.
Xu Bing creates calligraphy that looks like Chinese but is actually English.
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Department of Transportation

CHINATOWN — The mini High Line in Chinatown won't open until the middle of 2014, more than a year behind schedule, city officials said Wednesday.

Design delays forced the city to push back the opening of the elevated triangular park along Forsyth Street by the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, said Vaidila Kungys, a senior project manager at the Department of Transportation.

The city is working with renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing to design the new park, and scheduling conflicts have prevented Bing from working on the project until now.  The finished product will be worth the wait, Kungys said.

Bing, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient who often merges art with calligraphy, envisions converting the triangle of gravel and weeds into a playful plaza that will nod to the neighborhood's cultural history. Bing hopes to plant weeping cherry trees and feature his signature Square Word Calligraphy, which looks like Chinese writing at first glance but is actually English. 

"He wants to create poetry and incorporate it into the plaza," Kungys said. "We don't know what that will look like, whether it will be on paving, on the stairs, on the seating."

The plaza also will have a small cafe kiosk, plantings, movable chairs and tables and bicycle parking, according to preliminary drawings.

The city hopes to complete the design by the end of 2012 and start construction in June 2013. The project, which was first proposed by the nonprofit Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, will take about a year to build and is expected to be done in June 2014, Kungys said.

The city has already finished the first phase of construction — widening the sidewalk on Forsyth Street between Canal and Division streets.

The larger sidewalk gives the city room to add a staircase and ramp to the elevated park while affording greenmarket vendors on Forsyth Street more space to set up their wares.

"The goal is to make the market as open and transparent as possible," Kungys said.

The city will eventually add electricity and water for the Forsyth Street vendors but will not be able to add a public restroom, Kungys said.

After Kungys presented the plans to Community Board 3's Transportation & Public Safety Committee Wednesday night, several board members raised concerns that skateboarders, rats and homeless people would take over the refurbished plaza when it opens.

Kungys said designers would do their best to dissuade all those groups from using the new public space.

DOT officials are expected to return to Community Board 3 in February or March with more detailed designs.

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