Thursday, 30 June 2011

NY Must See: High Line

The newest area along High Line that's starting to grow over the original rails
Today my friend took me to see High Line, a very interesting community project to turn something old into something new.

In the old days a rail line went from the ports up to mid-town and the track literally ran through buildings to make it easier to drop goods off. However, it was quite dangerous crossing the busy tracks and the strip was known as "Death Avenue" (now 10th Avenue).

The path along High Line emulates rail tracks
As a result elevated tracks were built in the 1930s and used until the 1980s when they were abandoned and eventually weeds, wild flowers and shrubs grew over the rail line.

A small active community group had proposed turning the area into a park, but their idea fell on deaf ears. It wasn't until 2002 when the track was slated for demolition did many New York residents put their energy into pushing the park idea again. Heavyweights like designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband Barry Diller pledged millions of dollars to help convert the neglected place into a community-oriented garden.

Finally in 2009 it was opened to the public and even more recently an extension was added to High Line and it now goes from Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district all the way to 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Apparently it will extend further to 34th Street.

Watching the street view from above
We started from 30th Street and 10th Avenue and made our way along the path. We saw some remnants of the original track with grasses and flowers purposely growing over them. The elevated walkway is beautifully designed and some corridors have great public spaces for people to sit outside, have a rest, chat with friends or eat their lunch as they watch the world go by. Each section has a different layout.

There's a wide selection of flora and fauna growing along the area too, and it's a pity there are no signs to let people know what's growing out there. Nevertheless it's great to see the giant bumblebees buzzing around and doing their thing; I remarked perhaps in the future there would be High Line honey available.

Frank Gehry's IAC building at left
The city views are great along the track and you can see the wide range of architectural styles standing together. Even Frank Gehry's IAC building in Chelsea makes its presence known among the old brick buildings with its curves and glass. The Standard Hotel even stands over the track -- the guests have to keep their curtains closed at all times despite having amazing floor-to-ceiling views.

Vendors have started to appear at High Line and one young woman was selling delicious gourmet popsicles. I had papaya passion ($4) while my friend had cucumber lime ($3). It was a refreshing way to beat the heat. Another sold black and white images taken from his pinhole camera made of a film canister, while the group Friends of the High Line had books about the project for sale and got people interested in volunteering or donating.

It was just so wonderful to see a dead space come to life again through community efforts and the result is a beautifully executed area that has become a tourist spot and brings back energy to the area again.

The Standard Hotel hovering over the High Line
If only places like Hong Kong and China could take notice of places like High Line and see that old does make new again through passion. Yes it takes money to do this, but reviving previously neglected areas is priceless.

1 comment:

  1. Another great example of bringing dead (urban) space back to life -- and closer to Hong Kong and other parts of China: Seoul's Cheonggyecheon stream project.

    (OTOH, thank goodness that Hong Kong doesn't have any urban wasteland a la, say, large swathes of North Philadelphia...)