I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published March 31st 2011
The High Line, New York City's only elevated park, has become its greatest success story. More than a decade and $153 million dollars in the making, the High Line is about to open the long-awaited section two, an expansion that will double the park in size, extending it more than ten blocks to Thirtieth Street. New features in section two include more privacy (denser plantings), a luxurious lawn for relaxing, and a glass portion that enables pedestrians to see through to the original structure that dates back to the 1930s.
The story of how the High Line came to be is just as interesting as its elements. Back in 1999, the principle developers of the park, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, both residents of the Chelsea neighborhood where the then-doomed rail lines are located, set out to save them from destruction. It wasn't easy. At the time, the former Meat Packing neighborhood was ripe for gentrification, and most people—including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani—thought the out-of-commission rail lines were an eyesore. Everyone wanted to see them gone, paving the way for luxury housing along Manhattan's west side.
After all, the rail lines had not been used since 1980. And even though a few people thought that they might again be useful, the waterfront was too precious and valuable to consider it. Besides, most New Yorkers hadn't seen the beautiful wildflowers that had grown along the 3-mile stretch since the High Line is roughly 25-feet off the ground and was at the time permanently closed to the public. David and Hammond pressed on, however, commissioning a feasibility study to validate the economic potential of developing the old lines into an elevated public park and spent the next few years gathering public and financial support, including that of incoming Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Once David and Hammond got the approvals they needed from the city in 2002, they created a competition to locate an innovative design team who was up for the challenge to convert the space into a public park. Out of more than 720 entries from some 36 countries, the winners were landscape architect James Corner of Field Operations and the architectural firm Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro. The combined plan incorporated the natural landscape of what was there at the time and many new elements like multiple entries and exits, special vantage points, seating areas, staging areas, and places to install public art. Read more about section one of the High Line and its specific elements here.
This spring, at a date not yet announced, the High Line will open section two, which extends the park by half beginning on Twentieth Street. The second stretch offers some privacy in the form of a dense thicket of plantings that follows the walkway for roughly two blocks before opening to a wide, grassy field (see artist's rendering below). Unlike most urban lawns that are roped off, this one is made for New Yorkers to sunbathe and sit upon, enabling urbanites to enjoy the closeness to nature they desire. Landscape designer James Corner considers each area a separate "episode" in a long, unfolding drama between what is manmade and what is natural.
The next, and some claim most exciting, episode of section two is the glass "flyover" (see artist's rendering below), an elevated portion of the park that lifts pedestrians above the structure by another eight feet, enabling them to see the High Line itself. Surrounded by the older existing buildings (and their graffiti) park goers will enjoy interesting vantage points from every direction as well as river views of the Hudson. The final portion of section two extends in a wide arc that has been remade as a seating area with roughly two blocks of continuous teak benches made from repurposed wood. Take a virtual tour of section two here.
If section three is ever made possible (it is currently owned by an unrelated third party) the High Line may one day extend to Thirty-fourth Street, ending near the Javits Convention Center. Embark on a curious journey and explore all the High Line has to offer from art installations and participatory theater, to public readings by city authors and scavenger hunts for kids. This season will also see the debut of food concessions (along with newer, mobile seating and tables) so you can basically climb up there and make your own adventure. Get to it!
I LOVE the High Line and can't wait to see the new section! Maybe the extra length will help spread out the crowds?
By Joanna Eng - senior reviewer Friday, 1st of April @ 11:46 am
It's possible, but every time there's a new feature up there, it's mobbed with people. Expect the same come June. Though this idea of having a book cart with free books that you can borrow is intriguing enough to get me up there—crowds or no crowds.