New York City is commonly known as the “concrete jungle” and for good reason. There are skyscrapers as far as the eye can see! To help off set all the concrete in Manhattan, residents and tourists alike tend to escape to the greenery of Central Park. Of course, there are several other smaller parks scattered throughout Manhattan, but nothing compares to New York’s newest park – The High Line!
The High Line is a 1.45 mile long park built on an old elevated freight train line of previously used by the New York Central Railroad. The park’s concept was inspired by the 3 mile long Promenade Plantee in Paris, France. The rail line itself is rich in history and the design of the High Line was able to capture elements of its history in its current state. The High Line park can be accessed from several locations throughout it’s 1.45 mile long path, but it begins at Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and ends at the northern end of the West Side Yard on 34th Street in Chelsea.
The High Line began its history in 1847 when the City Of New York authorized street-line railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side. As you can imagine so many accidents happened between freight trains and other traffic that 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.” The railroad companies attempted to curb the death by hiring men to ride horses and wave flags in front of the trains to warn people. These men were dubbed the “West Side Cowboys.” In 1929 after years of public debate, the city and state of New York and the New York Central Railroad who owned the rail line, decided to raise the rail line above the roads in the West Side Improvement Project. The original High Line was 13 miles long and eliminated 105 street-level railroad crossings. At the time the project cost the partners over $150 million, and it 2009 dollars that would be equivalent to $2 billion!
The first trains to run on the High Line began in 1934. The trains ran from 34th street to St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street. The rail line connected directly to factories and warehouses allowing businesses to load and unload trains directly inside their buildings. The trains continued to run regularly on the High Line up till the late 1950s when the growth of interstate trucking skyrocketed and rail traffic subsequently dropped. In the 1960s the southernmost section of the line from Gansevoort Street to Spring Street was demolished. The last train to run on the surviving part of the line was operated by Conrail in 1980 with just three carloads of frozen turkeys. Gobble, gobble!
A group of local property owners lobbied for the demolition of the remaining structure of the High Line in the mid-1980s. At the same time, one lone Chelsea resident, Peter Obletz, who was an activist and railroad enthusiast challenged the property owners in court and tried to re-establish the line as a working rail line again. However, in the late 1980s the north end of the High Line was disconnected from the rest of the rail lines on the West Side thus leaving the rail line to lay unused and rusting. In the last 1990s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani the rail line was slated for demolition.
In 1999, Chelsea residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed the non-profit Friends of the High Line. They began advocating for the line’s preservation and turning the space into a public park similar to Paris’ Promenade Plantee. From 2002 to 2003 the non-profit began planning and conducting feasibility studies to determine if the High Line Project was economically rational. CSX Transportation, who owned the High Line at the time, gave photographer Joel Sternfeld permission to photograph the line for an entire year. Sternfeld was able to portray the beauty of the meadow-like landscape of the deserted rail line. The photos were used at public meetings whenever the topic of saving the High Line was on the agenda to be discussed.
The High Line Project captured the attention of some famous supporters. Fashion Designer Diane von Furstenberg moved her New York City headquarters to the Meatpacking District in 1997. She became a very prominent supporter and organized fundraising events in her studio. In 2004, the New York City government committed $50 million to help develop the rail line as a public park. Between March and September 2004 the Friends of the High Line and the New York City government conducted the process of identifying a design team. The park’s overall design concept was designed by James Corner’s Field Operations, a NY-based landscape architecture firm, with planting design from Piet Oudolf, a planter designer from the Netherlands, and lighting design from L’Observatoire International. CSX Transportation donated the line in 2005. On April 10, 2006, the ground was broke to begin building the new park.
The southernmost section from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street opened on June 8, 2009. The second section was opened on June 7, 2001 with the final section from 30th Street to 34th Street was opened one September 21, 2014. The total cost of the project cost over $200 million to complete. The park is opened from 7am to 7pm during the winter months and opened much later during the rest of the year.
I spent Sunday morning walking the entire length of the High Line and then almost all the way back to go to the Chelsea Market for lunch. Out of all the wonderful (and not so wonderful) things I saw in NYC, the High Line Park was my absolute favorite. I just love the concept of a raised park that played with the juxtaposition of a green space and the urban elements of one of the world’s largest cities. The park is a popular space. It was quiet and peaceful in some sections, especially when I first began my walk in the early morning, but was crowded and loud in other sections. I saw a few runners dancing their way through the path of people. I can’t imagine that the High Line is a great running path, but perhaps it’s quieter in the early morning hours.
There are many stairwells and elevators to hop onto the park. Most of the path is constructed from pebble-dash concrete and hard-packed gravel. There are over 210 plant species located on the High Line! Most of the plants are clump-forming glasses and cone-flowers common to rugged meadows. One of the coolest features of the High Line is the window bays of the former Nabisco Factory loading dock. The High Line goes right through the building and the windows feature of series of 700 purple and grey colored glass panes. You can also see street paintings on various building and other art structures throughout the park.
The best part of the High Line Park is that it is completely free! If you find yourself in NYC then I highly recommend taking a stroll down the High Line. I spent much of Sunday afternoon exploring Central Park and although I enjoyed Central Park, nothing compared to the High Line.