Connecting a City’s Past With Its Future: Creating Inner City Green Space Through Preservation

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of preserve is “to keep (something) in its original state or in good condition.” Often times it is assumed that Historic Preservationist lean toward the former, a desire to keep historic structures in their “original state” however, this is not necessarily true. It is also assumed that all historic preservation efforts focus on saving structures with major historical significance, such as Independence Hall, while “ordinary” structures fall to the wayside. In Kathryn Rogers Merlino’s article “[Re]Evaluating Significance: The Environmental and Cultural Value in Older and Historic Buildings,” published in the August 2014 edition of The Public Historian, she discusses the ways in which “ordinary” historic buildings can be preserved and repurposed to create green buildings that promote cross generational connections. Merlino explains that these buildings, which are often seen as historically insignificant, embody the culture of a specific time and place and that tearing them down to create new buildings erases a significant part of an area’s history. Merlino’s argument is that by repurposing old, or historic, buildings, a community can not only save on redevelopment costs, but can also revitalize their living space while connecting their past with their future.

This argument can move far beyond historic buildings to support the preservation of historic structures of all kinds. In cities across the world repurposing abandoned rail lines as city green spaces is becoming a popular trend. In Paris, Sydney, Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, and even Philadelphia, plans have been developed to once again give life to the rail lines which once supported these major areas. Many of the cities have modeled their plans after New York City’s High Line, an elevated green space that opened in 2010 by repurposing the abandoned rail lines which once brought goods to Manhattan’s largest industrial district. The growth in popularity of vehicles and interstate trucking led to the closing of many rail lines that were once major arteries into the heart of cities. By repurposing them into parks, communities can enjoy green space, which is often difficult to find in urban areas, while also preserving their past as major rail ports and the history of the industrial railroad.

For more information on what Philadelphia is planning for the abandoned Reading Rail Park please visit – be sure to watch the video to see the ways in which the park can positively impact the surrounding urban neighborhoods.

Information on NYC’s High Line can be found here:

And for a quick article on how cities worldwide are repurposing abandoned rail lines visit:


1 Comment

  1. This is very interesting, Sarah! I was not aware of initiatives to repurpose old rail lines, but it is a very innovative concept. I like the way that you connected this idea back to Merlino’s article.

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