Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line and now a President of World Monument Fund (WMF) said that public participation is the key to any conservation and restoration work that has to be undertaken in the city at the Observer Research Foundation conference on conserving historic cities in South East Asia. He, along with a team in 1999, decided to save the High Line, a historic elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side, then under threat of demolition. The former abandoned site has now been restored into a lively public park with citizens’ intervention receives no less than 7 million visitors a year.
From founding it as an idea in 1999 and opening as park, High Line Park has received overwhelming response, did you expect that?
When we started in 1999, it all began as a dream. We initially thought people would call us crazy and ignore us, which actually did happen. But later we got an outpouring support from locals but we never thought it would be famous and captivating for such a large group of people and would get visitors between 7 to 8 million visitors in a year.
What got you interested in such a massive project and how did you fight the continuous criticism?
It is not easy to take up such a large project, one has to be really passionate about it and make it your entire life. At the beginning we did not have government opportunity, the then mayor did not support the initiative but perseverance took us through. The philanthropic nature of the city is also an important part when a project that is for public is taken up or planned.
You will be leading WMF into its next half century, what are your plans for it?
I am lucky to join an organisation with an illustrious record of 50 years of phenomenal conservation work; I want to stay true to it. Conservation is social development and I want to emphasise on it through the projects we pick up. We are looking to forward to plan restoration and conservation work that will have greatest possible social benefit.
What projects/plans is WMF taking up in India?
We are undertaking three major restoration projects for which I will continue to seek funding. We are working on restoration of two Mughal gardens in Agra near Taj Mahal. We are working with Osmania Women College and restoring a heritage building which was formerly a British residence. We have also opened nomination for our 2018 watch sites under World Monuments Watch — which is a call to action for cultural heritage sites facing imminent threats.