The High Line, the elevated train track built in the 1930s to service the warehouses on Manhattan’s West Side, should by rights have been torn down in the 1980s, when trains stopped using it. But instead, a small miracle happened. The High Line has been turned into an urban park. New York now has its version of the Promenade Plantée in Paris, the elevated walkway that runs from the Bastille Opera House to the Bois de Vincennes.
This June the first section of the High Line opened to the public in a ceremony presided over by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and in 2010, the second and final section will open, completing a 1.45 mile, 6.7-square-acre park that runs from the meatpacking district in the West Village onto Chelsea. The total cost of the park, $152.3 million, is far from cheap, but what the city will gain in revenues from the building going on around the park should more than offset what it, the state, the federal government, and Friends of the High Line have spent.
The restored High Line is a victory for both preservationists and environmentalists. The park acknowledges the past, even integrating some of the old High Line railroad tracks into its flower beds. But the park is not a sentimental monument to industrial chic. It is a man-made landscape, filled with native grasses and trees, that evokes, without trying to replicate, the natural growth that took place when trains stopped using the old High Line.
The High Line park design team, led by landscape architect James Corner’s Field Operations; Piet Oudolf, the Dutch garden designer; and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architecture firm responsible for the redesigned Alice Tully Hall/Julliard School building at Lincoln Center, has been guided by an aesthetic of restraint. This summer the most eye-catching flowers on the High Line are its dark-violet Siberian irises, but dominating the park are small groves of birches and eastern redbuds, and a multitude of prairie grasses.
The High Line exudes a sense of calm that the city below it lacks, but the park’s designers have been guided by the idea that the essence of the park is the view it provides from thirty feet above street level. The High Line is not, like Central Park, intended to be an urban oasis. Even the gray, gravel mulch out of which its trees and grasses grow serves as a reminder of the city’s most familiar color.
Ground breaking on the High Line began in 2006, but the political struggle to preserve it started in 1999, when two neighborhood residents, Robert Hammond and Joshua David, attended a community board meeting and realized the High Line was in danger of being torn down. The two quickly formed the Friends of the High Line and began marshalling support to stop the demolition. With Amanda Burden, currently the city planning commissioner, on their side, they were able to win over the New York City Council in 2002, and by 2003 the Friends of the High Line had become ...
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