From Rusty Rail-Line to Landscaped High-Line

Bring together a landscape architect, an architecture firm, New York City train rails that are unused and on the brink of demolition, and a bunch of passionate activists – what do you get? Creative, green brilliance, of course. Otherwise known as the High-Line Project.

The High-Line, located on Manhattan’s West Side, is 13 miles of elevated train rails that run from Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking District) to 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. Originally built in the 1930s as a way to avoid the accidents occurring between freight trains (carrying food and other goods) and street-level traffic, the High-Line became obsolete with the rise of interstate trucking in the 1950s. In 1980 the last train ran on the High-Line. End of story.

Not so fast. A debate ensued about what to do with all that real estate – demolish the entire structure or preserve and turn it into an open public space? The rest is preservation history and a public park dream come true for New York City.

Construction, which began in 2006 after the design team was selected, has been long, detailed and arduous. It was a multi-step process that entailed removing every part of the structure before any landscaping could take place. Each piece of the train rail was removed, labeled and put into storage. Many of the pieces have been built back into the landscaping in creative ways.

The website describes the High-Line as “…an integrated landscape combining meandering concrete pathways with naturalistic plantings. Fixed and movable seating, lighting, and special features are also included in the park. Access points from street level will be located every two to three blocks. Many of these access points will include elevators, and all will include stairs.”

No bikes, skateboards or scooters are allowed. Picking flowers, drinking alcohol and feeding the birds and squirrels is prohibited. The rules are in place for good reason, mostly to protect the newly planted landscape. But the High-Line offers an ongoing calendar of free public programs, with events like “Wandering Band” and live dance and theater performances.

I’m so intrigued by this project, and inspired. What better way to preserve the past than create a beautiful, green outdoor space? A simple place where people can interact, be alone, read, walk or observe. Did I already say brilliant?

The first completed section, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened to the public in June 2009 and section 2 is scheduled to open some time next year. Their blog will keep you updated on the latest construction details as well as performances and Friends of High-Line activities.

My hope is that New York City residents appreciate this gift and return the favor by respecting and protecting it. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears they are doing just that. If only Los Angeles could be so lucky.

Images: My High Line, 2009 in Pictures, Friends of the High Line, J Marx.