This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
“Class Divide,” a fascinating documentary by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson, focuses on a macrocosm and a microcosm, both within the urban sprawl of New York City. The macrocosm is the slice of Manhattan known as West Chelsea, which in the last decade has seen a real estate boom spurred in part by the success of the innovative urban park known as the High Line.
The microcosm is the intersection of 10th Avenue and 26th Street, where one of the most elite and pricey K-12 schools in the city faces a housing project that contains some of Manhattan’s poorest families, whose kids attend public or parochial schools. While the film contains interviews with all sorts of adults involved with the locations it concerns, some of its most illuminating comments come from kids on the two sides of 10th Avenue, who reflect on their circumstances and the fortunes life has given them.
As its title indicates, the film is concerned with the issue of class in America and specifically New York City, but it embraces many subjects, appropriately for a city that contains multitudes. One of the most engrossing—and visually engaging—is the back story of the High Line and West Chelsea’s development. For much of the last century, the area was industrial, with elevated trains that would, for example, bring in turkeys to be slaughtered and exit with their meat. But over time the industries gradually departed and the train tracks became derelict structures that begged to be torn down.
In 1999, two Chelsea residents began a then-lonely crusade to turn the abandoned railway into an outdoor elevated park. It took years for them to win over other residents and New York power brokers, but by 2006 construction began and the first section of the High Line opened three years later (two more sections have opened since). The park was an instant smash. For anyone who hasn’t visited the popular tourist attraction, “Class Divide” amply documents its appeal as a wonderfully cinematic window onto the Hudson River on one side and the great panorama of downtown Manhattan on the other.