High Line: New York’s Elevated Park Gears Up For Expansion

The High Line is a rare oasis in NYC. The elevated railroad line that operated through the mid-1900’s down the west side of Manhattan was saved from extinction in 1999. After a decade of determination and hard work by the two Friends of the High Line founders, the nearly demolished railroad was converted into a beautifully landscaped park, preserving its original aesthetic and adapting it to the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Since its opening in June, 2009, the High Line has become a coveted space by both residents and visitors for its beauty and uniqueness. At 25 feet above ground, the High Line offers respite from the chaos of the city’s streets and unparalleled park space with stunning views of the Hudson and Manhattan. In celebration of its second anniversary, the city of New York and parks department have some exciting new introductions planned for the High Line in 2011.

Originally opened in 1934, High Line traffic dropped significantly in the 50’s due to growth of interstate transportation and then was little used after the ’60s when the southern portion from Spring Street to Gansevoort Street was demolished. The last train rolled across its tracks in 1980.

Use of the remaining High Line was debated until 1999, when Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighbourhood, met at a community meeting about its future and formed an alliance to save it and turn it into public park space. “Miracle Above Manhattan” in the April issue of National Geographic details their decade of work through the political, design and construction processes leading to the park’s opening.

In June, 2009, section one of the High Line (between 10th and 11th avenues) from Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking district, to 20th street, opened to the public. An excerpt from the article perfectly describes the feeling you get from its elevated position above the city.

“Walking on the High Line is unlike any other experience in New York. You float about 25 feet above the ground, at once connected to street life and far away from it. You can sit surrounded by carefully tended plantings and take in the sun and the Hudson River views, or you can walk the line as it slices between old buildings and past striking new ones. I have walked the High Line dozens of times, and its vantage point, different from that of any street, sidewalk, or park, never ceases to surprise and delight. Not the least of the remarkable things about the High Line is the way, without streets to cross or traffic lights to wait for, 10 blocks pass as quickly as two.”

Over the last two years, the architects have been busy designing section two of the High Line, which is projected to open this spring from 20th to 30th street. Unlike the first section, where the natural bends in the track provided for architectural features such as the sundeck area, section two is a much straighter path, requiring a different design.

James Corner, one of the High Line’s architects, describes the flow and challenge best, “It’s all wide open with views of the city, and then all of a sudden you’re walking between two building walls. It’s dead straight, and we had to make it so you didn’t feel you were in a corridor”. I’m anxious for the opportunity to explore the new section and see how they responded to the challenge.

In answer to visitors’ requests for food and beverages on the High Line, Friends of The High Line is accepting bids from food cart vendors, with the goal to have options in 2011 that are as creative and interesting as the High Line itself.

The park is open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily. Entrance points are at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th streets. For event and tour information, visit HighLine.org