Head up to the High Line–an urban park in the sky

We recently walked the new High Line Park on the west side of Manhattan on a gorgeous sunny winter day. What a visual treat.  My only regret is that our walk ended so soon.

The High Line is an old elevated rail bed, reinvented as a public park. It is a great walk with both close up and panoramic city views in the oh, so trendy and getting trendier part of the city where fashionistas flock for hip shopping, dining at fancy schmancy restaurants and young folks hang out in the middle of the night to party at the exclusive clubs.

What did I love about it?  First of all, it was a nice walk out doors above the bustle of the city street but unlike most urban parks, it exposes meanderers to the city, rather than providing a retreat from city life.

This is a new way to think about a park.

Along the walk, we enjoyed seeing folks relaxing on wooden lounge chairs attached with big wheels to the old rail bed and stopped to sit in the cantilevered amphitheater to view the drama of daily life up close and personal.  I gawked at the stararchitects’ monuments nearby—most notable is Frank Gehry’s IAC marsh mellow puff.

Surrounded by huge billboards, a massive stacking car garage and folks going about their daily routines, we felt part of city life, not removed from it.   We sipped our organic hot chocolate purchased from a young New Yorker at an outdoor beverage cart. Traffic rushes below.

In the distance you see snippets of the Hudson River and there are even a few points where the Statue of Library can be spotted. If this is important to you, bring binoculars.

The High Line cuts through Foodie Heaven—Chelsea Market (more about it in a future blog post) and is straddled by uber trendy, The Standard Hotel (last week’s Design Destination).

So, what is the High Line and how did it turn into a park?  It’s a nine-block stretch of the old elevated train track built in the 30s to service the many industrial warehouses in this side of town. It replaced a Tenth Avenue train track that ran down the middle of the street and, according to an article in New York Magazine, ran down pedestrians with distressing frequency.

Abandoned in 1980, it lay dormant, turning into an urban wasteland.

When threatened with being torn down about ten years ago, a grass roots group gathered together to raise the funds to rehabilitate the decrepit rusting old tracks, turning it into a civilized park. It is similar in a way to the Promenade Plantee in Paris built on the viaducts in the Bastille area. If you haven’t been there, do put it on your list for your next trip to Paris. It’s fabulous.

After a decade of red tape and fund raising, the first nine blocks of this slender thread of a park opened in June 2009.  Eventually it will extend to 30th Street, well into Chelsea.  I’ll be back to enjoy it when this urban fairy tale has its “happily ever after” moment.

It is industrial chic at its best.  I’m not a gardener but I could appreciate the mix of wildflowers and weed like plants—creating what felt to me like a narrow urban meadow. Some of the rail bed has been reused and a concrete pathway nudges visitors along.

As I think about the High Line I think it is probably a metaphor in a way for the times we live in.  It’s all about reusing and recycling.  Not tearing down and building something new. It’s taking an eyesore and transforming it into simple space for quiet and slow meandering or resting in the midst of a major urban city.

New York is again reinventing it self and it made me happy to share in the experience.


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9 Responses to Head up to the High Line–an urban park in the sky

  1. Lyle Boatman says:

    I love your coverage of this. More people need to know about this and the type of re-use it represents. I was enamored of this once I heard of the design competition several years back. the results were also recently published in a cover story in Architectural Record. Keep traveling… While I am in architecture school , I am living vicariously through your travels.

  2. Barb says:

    About 5 years ago we were in NYC to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the GRSO. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to view “Ashes and Snow” – an exhibit that was built from discarded shipping containers and was placed on a pier adjacent to the abandoned railroad tracks. Work had not begun on the portion we saw, but all the signs were there. How exciting it will be to see the park in it completed stage. Thanks, Susan.

  3. smithsj says:

    We went to NYC to that concert as well and visited the “Ashes and Snow” exhibit. It was fabulous. I had forgotten that it was near the High Line. Hope you get a chance to see what has happened with this part of NYC. It’s amazing.

  4. Peggy DePersia says:

    It is very exciting to see something that has been abandoned for some period of time brought back to life in a new way, a way that works for a different time. It is a miracle of the creative mind of man that such things are possible. I’d like to see more of this kind of thinking in all of our cities; some seem to be doing it more successfully than others. Striking the balance between salvage/restoration or reinvention and tear down/new construction is always a challenge. Some ‘visions’ work while others fail; this vision for reuse appears to be an exciting and welcome success!

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