- Posted July 2, 2012 by
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The High Line: NYC Recycles Abandoned Railway Into Garden Skyway of the Future
Former Harper’s Bazaar editor LESLIE SCOCCA CROFT traverses an abandoned railway track, discovers a renewable resource, and explores the New York City High Line: The first urban, above ground park in America in a day in the life of our culture.
As the summer season approached, one of my long overdue “musts” was to take a leisurely stroll across Manhattan’s linear park called the High Line. I had been thoroughly intrigued by this suspended, aboveground park, and on a picture-perfect weekend set forth into Joshua David and Robert Hammond’s incarnation of the future.
The High Line Park is built on a 1.5 mile section of the former New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. It opened to trains in 1934, running from 34th Street to the former St. John’s Park terminal at Spring Street. The trains prattled along through the second stories of factories and warehouses allowing the cargo to be unloaded right inside the buildings! This would all occur without disturbing traffic on the streets below. But as the interstate trucking industry grew, rail traffic dropped dramatically, resulting in sections of this railway being demolished and many of the rail employees losing their jobs to the Great Depression. The last train rolled along these tracks in 1980 and laid unused and unwanted until 1999. Indeed, the industrial revolution seemed to have abandoned the tracks and those who worked the rails.
At this time, however, two residents of the neighborhood, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, formed the non-profit, “Friends of the High Line”. This organization advocated for the Line’s preservation by re-designing the line into an elevated park or greenway. With its inspiration taken from the Promenade Plantée in Paris, community buzz and support grew for pedestrian usage and in 2004 New York City committed $50 million dollars to establish a floating park. Construction began in 2006, and on June 8, 2009 the High Line opened as an official New York City Park. On June 7, 2011, the second section opened from 20th to 30th Streets, and a third and final section will wrap around the Hudson Rail Yards between West 30th to 34th Streets. This construction will be coordinated with the development of Hudson Yards, which will feature more than 12 million square feet of new office, residential and cultural space. This opening is scheduled for Spring 2014.
As I researched the history of the High Line, and heard all the great feedback from my friends and co-workers who’d already climbed and walked across it, I became intrigued to experience it for myself. I entered the park via the stairway access on West 30th Street, and worked my way down to Gansevoort. But as soon as I got to the top of the stairway, I, immediately, understood. For the views were as remarkable as they were amazing for this native of New York City.
As I gazed upon the horizon line of the old rail, I couldn’t believe the transformation of plantings, assorted grasses and exotic flowers that lay ahead of me. These plantings were inspired by the self-seeded grasses and plants that once grew wild on the abandoned tracks. Indeed, the landscape architects, Field Operations, stayed true to and preserved this ascetic. I also got a kick out of the first group exhibition featured on the High Line called “Lilliput” running until April 2013, which features nine, reduced-scale sculptures inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. They are hidden amongst the landscaping, in the most unexpected places, and like the High Line itself offer tiny clues into the journey and transformation of this fantastical world.
As I walked towards downtown, I heard many foreign languages spoken, particularly by Europeans enjoying this unique urban park. I also noticed beautiful wooden benches provided to stop, rest and admire the fascinating eco-friendly surroundings; including modern sculptures set up to provide food, shelter and water for birds, butterflies and insects. One of the most magnificent views can be seen from a vantage point called the “Urban Theater” where lounges and picture windows snap unparalleled views of 10th avenue. Passing through the second floor of historic Chelsea Market or the societal ecosystem of the trendy Standard Hotel, I transponder from the past to the present, and, at length, into the spectacle of the future.
Numerous weekly events take place on the High Line; such as free-guided walking tours, art and crafts events for children, even stargazing on Tuesdays at dusk. There is even an annual Summer Party that will feature a carnival-inspired celebration. In fact, there will be many exciting additions to look forward to as the High Line continues to thrive and expand. And while many other US cities have been inspired to create their own urban parks and greenways, New York City remains the arbiter of America’s dream: connecting it’s illustrious past to the prerogative of it’s future. With the railway’s headquarters and operations center at the terminus, and the Whitney Museum cultural facility at the end of the tracks, New York City’s High Line is the suspension boulevard of tomorrow: reminding us that true progress never comes at the cost of another’s culture.