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The High Line – teaching an old rail line a new trick
Jill Odom | June 6, 2017
The high line urban park in New York city

The High Line is an Urban Land Institute Urban Open Space Award Finalist from 2012.
Photo: Urban Land Institute/

If I had to choose which New York City park I’m most excited about visiting this year it would be the High Line, hands-down.

I’ve mentioned this space a couple of times in previous stories, and finally I’ll be able to see this reclaimed urban space that has become a garden in the sky for myself.

Compared to some of the parks this city possesses, the High Line is a mere infant, having opened to the public in June 2009.

Running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34 Street between 10th and 12th Avenues, this elevated track was originally built to transport freight in 1934. However, the growing trucking industry caused the railroad line to be considered obsolete by the 1960s, and the last train was operated in 1980, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys.

Destined for demolition, the High Line’s original advocate was Chelsea resident, Peter Obletz, an activist and railroad enthusiast who battled property owners lobbing for the structure to be torn down. The ligation prolonged its lifespan until Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed the Friends of High Line organization in 1999, which campaigned for the space to be transformed into a public park.

After finding that the project was indeed economically feasible, the Friends of the High Line held an open ideas design competition in 2003 expecting a handful of local submissions, but ended up with 720 entries from 36 countries. The selected team was James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf, planting designer.

20th street the high line with grasses, shrubs, and perennials

The High Line is a 1.45-mile long park full of grasses, shrubs and perennials.
Photo: Wikipedia

Corner wanted to create one meandering strip, broken up with special areas. Striving to maintain the overgrown wild look of the rail line during its abandoned period, Oudolf utilized tall grass and reeds and the plantings vary seasonally.

Since its original opening, the High Line has added on two other segments and offers spectacular views of the Hudson River as well as a unique look at the city itself by being raised out of the canyon of skyscrapers.

The High Line features sections like the Chelsea Thicket which is a two-block long mini forest, the Interim Walkway, which is a pleasant path through the self-seeding plantings, and the Perishing Square Beams, which have turned the original steel beams and girders into a silicon-coated play area for children.

Art installations are a common site on the High Line and there are plenty of food places on the ground to stock up on picnic items for those who want to take advantage of the various seating and watch the conveyor belt of people passing them by.

The romantic melding of an industrial age gone by and nature reclaiming its territory draws around 5 million visitors annually, and I’m happy to say that I’ll be one of them for 2017.


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