The New High Line

Photo of the High Line pathway

The High Line is an elevated park that runs along a portion of Manhattan's west side. It was once a railway, in use from 1934 until 1980. As vegetation took over, it became an informal and (not completely) inaccessible greenway above the streets. Neighborhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond started Friends of the High Line in 1999, hoping to save the structure from demolition and build support for the park idea. The city approved funding in 2004, and the lower section (from Gansevoort to 20th Street) opened in June.

Photo of trees and benches along the High Line

The park was designed by James Corner Field Operations, Piet Oudolf, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It is made up of pathways that weave through the original train tracks, as well as diverse plants inspired by those that grew in the absence of maintenance. The city plans to continue the park along the Hudson Yards to the Javits Convention Center. According to Mayor Bloomberg, the first section has sparked considerable neighborhood development, with more than 30 new plans now in the works. The Whitney Museum is building an extension by Renzo Piano at the Gansevoort entrance.

Photo of plantings along the High Line

On a recent visit, I was impressed by the High Line's varied landscape and playful atmosphere. It offers a different perspective on the city, where things come into view that are usually hidden from street level. The path moves along and through buildings, creating excitement in the discovery of new environments.

Photo of the theater onto the street at the High Line

The architecture is kind of slick, but it also has a relaxed, inventive feel that plays well against the seasoned ruggedness of its surroundings. I really like the idea of including the original train tracks. This might be even better if their continuity could somehow be maintained. They currently seem like set pieces rather than historically integrated parts of the neighborhood. I loved the rolling chairs on tracks, and the vegetation is tough and beautiful. The spectator windows onto the street (or into the park) are an interesting concept, framing everyday life as entertainment. However, I'm not sure the frames and stepped seating add much to the view, and they seem to draw energy away from the path. These opinions, however, are especially inconsequential in light of the overall greatness of the park.

Photo of rolling chairs on tracks at the High Line

The High Line is a wonderful part of the city's changing ecology, one that builds upon the old in shaping the new. I recommend starting with the exhibition Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City at the Museum of the City of New York. It includes detailed reconstructions of the island before modern development, giving a sense of how our current moment fits within the area's unfolding story.

(Photos by Peter Sigrist)

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