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High Line in Manhattan (Jiyoung Yoon)

November 6, 2009

Sarah and Mary’s posts reminded me of last summer when I went to the High Line with Bill and his dad. It was surprising to me, though I used to live temporarily in Queens, NY, for a little more than a year, I was ignorant of the presence of the High Line located in the lower west of Manhattan. Somewhat perplexed, I asked Bill who was, back then, a city planning student. Soon I found out after I left New York City, it took its present form and started drawing public attention. Walking on the High Line, I also learnt a lot of information about the project from Bill.

High Line, last summer

High Line last summer

The High Line is a rehabilitated former freight line that runs through the West Side of Manhattan, from Chelsea up to Midtown. A group of concerned people with historic preservation instincts back in the 1980s noticed the beauty of the rusting, elevated track that snakes its way through the Meatpacking district. The railroad line was built to bring goods like cereals or meats into the heart of Manhattan, sometimes with the tracks and trains even passing directly through gigantic warehouses.

Worried that like so much of the history of New York it would eventually be torn down, they created a non-profit advocacy, “Friends of the High Line”. The tracks themselves, with their old rusting irons, old timbers, and packed gravel, became a beautiful example of what might be described as “urban prairie grassland” for all sorts of wildflowers, weeds, and a habitat for migrating insects and birds.

With the support of the city who saw the wisdom in providing something attractive to enhance the value of real estate in these areas of the Lower West Side (the areas around the line were quickly becoming gentrified as Wall Street boomed in the late 90s and 2002-2008), the main notions of the Friends of the High Line has recently become a reality. After putting their concept of a “greenway”, or elevated pedestrian path, to a contest of architects, they settled upon the idea of preserving the feeling of the “otherworldly” and “natural” landscape that existed there as much as possible by keeping original tracks, planting flowers and grasses that would change and mature over time, and putting down indirect, concrete pathways for pedestrians that wind around the plants and over panaromic views of the city, the waterfront, and even interesting angles on key landmarks like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Open to the public from early in the morning to just after dark, the project made a new park space in Manhattan for exceedingly cheap prices (just the cost of some stairs and a few elevators). The project is still underway, it will eventually run a mile through Manhattan, but has already spurred investment in new hotels and condos. The promenade has a leisurely, slow pace and fosters friendliness and tranquility as it is removed from the bustle of the streets below even as it attracts large crowds.

I thought the High Line is a quintessential friendly environmental practice because it recycles old infrastructure to make it greener, provide an oasis of habitat for migrating species.

High Line Before (from New York Times)

High Line Before (picture from the New York Times)

High Line After (from About.com)

High Line After (picture from About.com)

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