nyc reflections part 2: the high line

While in New York last week, I finally made it to The High Line. The High Line is a unique city park that opened in 2009. I've been meaning to go there ever since, but now I'm glad I waited: the second stage is open, so we were able to get the full effect. And it is spectacular.

The High Line, in its original form, was an elevated freight railway on the west side of Manhattan. As transportation shifted from train to truck, it gradually fell out of use, and into a state of disrepair. By the 1970s, it was rarely used, and the last train ran on the High Line tracks in 1980.

The rusting hulk of the High Line stood on the west side of Manhattan for decades. Every once in a while, you'd read about urban adventurers who had climbed up to the tracks. They'd report that grasses, wildflowers and trees were flourishing, that nature was reclaiming the space.

As the far west side of Manhattan began to be gentrified, real estate developers wanted the structure torn down. Preservationists, railroad aficionados and neighbourhood activists challenged them. Then two men had an idea... and an amazing project was born. A more complete history of The High Line, with links to photos, can be found here. There's also an excellent FAQ.

The dream was brought to reality, and beautifully so. Now The High Line is an elevated boardwalk, an aerial greenway, 10 metres (30 feet) over Manhattan. Its current length is 1.6 kilometres, or one mile, but there are plans to extend it further.

The High Line is essentially a boardwalk, but it's been designed to be so much more. It's completely accessible, public, noncommercial space. It's quiet - you look down at the noise and bustle of the City, and the sounds gently float up. And it's beautiful - the landscaping is designed with a natural, wild feel, studded with public art, with design details to remind you it was once a railway.

There's a huge amount of seating - always a premium in a New York City park - in many different forms. Some long benches are more public and communal, some tucked-away areas are better for private reflection or romance, and there's an ingenious areas with bleachers, for watching the City go by.

Although the High Line is essentially just a straight path, smart design prevents it from feeling like you're merely walking on a track. There are flyovers where you can step off the main boardwalk for a view, and cut-outs where the original railway structure is visible.

Bleachers face a huge window onto 10th Avenue. In another area, vines creeps up a huge wire fence, which will eventually become a wall of ivy. In another section, plants on either side of the walkway forms an arch, and you're walking through a secret garden.

Some areas are a bit wider, opening into a small lawn. Some parts are closely surrounded by buildings, and feel like a narrow city street - except you're five floors up. At one point, you walk past the roof of an old church, almost parallel with its stained glass window.

To the west there are views of the Hudson River, and if you time your visit, sunsets. To the east, you can look down busy New York avenues from a truly unique vantage point - removed from the hectic sound and pace of street level, but without the distorting distance of a skyscraper's observation deck.

When I was walking on The High Line, it was full of people - tourists speaking many languages, New Yorkers meeting friends for coffee, people in wheelchairs, people wheeling baby carriages, photographers, a few runners. It was busy, but didn't feel crowded (although it might on Sundays).

I walked the whole length (1.6 kilometres, one mile) and back. I didn't have a camera with me, but we intend to go back with a camera next time we're in the City. If you're interested in this kind of thing, I encourage you to peruse the the Friends of High Line Flickr group. Here are some standouts from that group:

High Line View
Photo: Philippa Phirefly
This elegant bridge between buildings has always been a favourite NYC detail of mine. Now a whole new view of it is available. It seems to be a High Line favourite.

High Line Lines
Photo: Philippa Phirefly

The High Line
Photo: Letizav

Wide Open Spaces
Photo: Gamma Infinity

The High Line
Photo: Letizav
This is looking into the bleacher viewing area - and this is in the bleachers themselves.

More photos, worth a click:

A flyover.

A greeting.

An underpass with a few vendors, above Chelsea Market.

View of beautiful old building, plus balustrade.

Another, plus bonus Empire State Building.

Avenue view, including the billboard that helps create this illusion.

A secret garden.

A vista. That's not a building at the end of the avenue. It's a cruise ship on the Hudson.

At the uptown end of the park, you can see some of the original structure; the park eventually will be extended to the full distance: here. Note how the balustrade design echoes the railway.

In the same Flickr group, there are lots of photos of wildflowers in the park, and of graffiti on nearby buildings.

Lots of good info and pics on The High Line's Wikipedia page.

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