All Aboard Manhattan’s High Line

by Matt Forcey

The High Line, an elevated railroad track running up the West Side of Manhattan, was built in the 1930s and abandoned by 1980.  It thrived for years as a figment of people’s romantic imagination — a wild meadow threaded with rusty rails 30 feet above the street — that was visited primarily by adventuresome truants and graffiti artists. Last summer, the High Line, redesigned to look like a wild meadow threaded with a concrete path and some carefully relocated rusty rails, finally opened as a park — and it does not disappoint.

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A copse of gray birch and Allegheny Serviceberry surrounds visitors as they emerge at the top of a stair at the park’s entry on Gansevoort Street. It’s an undeniably magical moment as the gritty cobbles, warehouses, and even the chic boutiques of the Meatpacking District below are shrugged off and an urban Elysium rolls ahead for some eight blocks up to 20th Street (the next section, which is scheduled to open this year, will extends as far as 30th Street; the last bit curves around Hudson Yards).

There are said to be some 210 indigenous species in the just-opened section, although the impression they leave is of a controlled palette combining the humble — in memory of the self-seeded plants and scrub brush that had sole possession of the rails for so long — and the modestly ornamental, including autumn moor grass, twisted leaf garlic and flowering quince. The concrete plank walkway expands and contracts as it weaves its way down the viaduct, narrowing to as little as eight feet, where neck-and-neck strollers can cause gridlock; or expanding the full width of the rail bed to invite more congenial milling.  

Meet gardener Andi Lawton and custodian Jose Casanova, part of the team of maintenance and operations staff at work on the High Line, New York’s elevated park. Friends of the High Line’s membership program goes to fund all of the maintenance and operations of the High Line.

Visitors read, text, talk and stroll in polite bunches through the landscape as it subtly shifts in mood, hue and density along the way. The detailing throughout is exquisite, from the sustainable Ipe wood for benches (looking like high-end teak) to the pencil-thin LED light sticks and unobtrusive cove lighting along the iron railing.

The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. Section 1 of the High Line, which opened to the public on June 9, 2009, runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street.  Download a printable High Line map.

Via The Wall Street Journal

UPDATE 9/10/2010

I found another wonderful video from the official opening of the High Line Park.  Thanks to the website Inhabitat.

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