March 26, 2010
Last summer, no matter the time of day or day of the week, you could see lines of people stretching around the entrances to some old elevated railroad tracks on the west side of Manhattan. The High Line, as it is called, opened last year to such anticipation and enthusiasm that people were willing to line up for wait times of almost an hour to see it. It’s a work of resourcefulness and ingenuity, really. The making of something out of nothing, an unexpected and beautiful park raised from a dilapidated and maligned railroad track.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, freight trains travelled along rails on Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. As you can imagine, the combination of trains plus street traffic created some dangerous conditions, and in the 1930s the tracks were lifted 30 feet above the street for safety reasons. As transportation shifted from railroads to highways in subsequent decades, rail traffic on the High Line declined, and by the 1980s it had ceased altogether. There was an effort by some neighborhood groups to have the tracks—now an eyesore—demolished but it never happened, mostly thanks to the work of railroad enthusiast and neighborhood resident Peter Obletz. Debate continued and finally, in 1999, two New Yorkers founded the organization Friends of the High Line and began the enormous process of rebuilding the tracks into a public park. After what I imagine must have been an incredible amount of hard work and political maneuvering, work on the park began in 2006 and the first section opened last summer, stretching along the west side of Manhattan from Gansevoort Street up to 20th street. The next section is anticipated to open later this year, bringing the High Line all the way to 30th street.
The park is a testament to the power of landscaping and design to transform a space. What was before a blot on the landscape is now a peaceful oasis. It has even inspired changes in the surrounding neighborhoods. As the High Line was being built, real estate developers wisely predicted that Tenth Avenue and nearby streets could become desirable places to live and work, overlooking what would soon be a beautiful park. Several developers enlisted the help of talented architects, who built innovative designs contrasting with the industrial buildings in the area. A walk along the High Line now offers a trifecta of views: the lovely park itself around you, glimpses of the Hudson River off to the side and interesting buildings towering over. The elevation provides a totally unique viewing angle of New York, while the gardens of the park give a kind of serenity not to be found at street level. Now that the lines have shortened, I bring visiting friends up after a brunch or lunch and it never fails to get rave reviews.
Do add it to your list if you are visiting New York, or if you are one of the New Yorkers who hasn’t been yet.
For more information please visit the High Line website.
*Photo by Iwan Baan, 2009. Courtesy Friends of the High Line.