High Line New York

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The High Line: Manhattan’s West Side Superstar

The High Line now appears on every Things to do in New York list. That wasn’t always the case.

It’s three stories above Manhattan and has three stories to tell. First, it was an industrial railway. Then, an abandoned, political hot potato. Today, it’s an urban planning superstar known worldwide.

Besides its architecture, what makes this public space unique is its history and journey. Its past aside, however, the High Line is also just like any other park as well. A place where you can walk, read, chat, eat, relax, watch people, have people watch you, fall in love, or have the talk.

The High Line is a park built on an abandoned railway in Manhattan, New York City. This image shows people relaxing on wooden benches somewhere around the middle of the High Line.
Located between 14th & 15th Streets, the Sun Deck is a popular area on the High Line. Take your pick: writing, reading, texting, drinking coffee, thinking, people watching, taking photos, all from the comfort of your own wooden deck chair.

The High Line: A 3-Section Park

(Editor’s Note: All three of the High Line’s sections are now open.)

The first of the park’s three planned sections opened in June of 2009. Two years later, on June 7th,  2011, I walked along the park’s second section for the first time.

At the 30th Street exit/entrance, I asked a park employee a few questions before leaving.

When did the High Line’s second section open?

Today, at about 1 pm.

Today?

Yeah, there was a lot of press here. They were going to open it tomorrow, but when the mayor finished speaking, they just decided to open it to everyone. The official opening is tomorrow, though.

I had stumbled upon opening day without realizing. Nice!

When I asked about the park’s third and final section opening, his face and delivery quickly changed.

It’s going to be a while.”

Why?

Politics.

Ah, yes, the P word. Politics is why the High Line wasn’t built until the 1930s; why it it was later left to rot from disuse; why it was almost torn down; and why it rose like a phoenix from its rusted ashes. Politics and the High Line are old chums.

The High Line, in Manhattan, New York stretches goes from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea.This image shows one of the High Line's longer, narrow sections. To the left we see train tracks overgrown with tracks. These tracks were removed and later replaced during the park's construction phase. On the right, pedestrians walk down a long, narrow pathway.
This stretch of the High Line, between 19th and 20th Street resembles a skyscraper laying on its side. The High Line’s 1.45 miles (2.33 km) stretch 22 blocks, from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea and into Midtown West. Everything on the High Line, including the tracks, was removed during construction. The same tracks were later added as a design element. The greenery simulates the High Line’s abandoned days. 

10th Avenue: Land Of Cowboys and Prairies

From 1847 to the 1930s, Manhattan’s West Side residents acted out a morbid routine so often that 10th Avenue became known as Death Avenue. The routine started each time someone was run over by the train traveling down the middle of the avenue.

A thick, thuddy thump was predictably followed by screams. Feet rustled, windows went up, doors opened, horse carriages stopped. The sensitive covered their mouths and their children’s eyes.

Somewhere nearby, an old woman perhaps, would invariably say, I heard it clear as a bell. Pity. Who was it this time?

Everyone agreed that the middle of the street was no place for a train, but nobody did anything. The trains kept a’rollin’ and a’thumpin’ at street level for another 70-plus years.

Eventually, hired men on horseback would ride down 10th Ave. waving red flags and screaming at pedestrians something akin to, Hey, you, get out of the way!  These West Side Cowboys rode until the High Line was built in the 1930s. No more trains on street level.

The High Line closed in 1980, a casualty of both the growing trucking business and New York’s declining industrial base. Wildflowers and tall grasses soon sprouted, living quiet, rent-free lives on Manhattan’s only prairie land. Birds, insects, and the occasional late-night urban explorer also appreciated the solitude.

For the next 20+ years, politicians and property owners jawboned in agreement about tearing it down. What nobody agreed on was who should pay for it. Politics.

The High Line's 2nd section, which opened in June 2011 in Manhattan, New York, has a lawn section where visitors can sit, relax and even sleep on the grass. This image shows people doing all of the above near one of the modern steel and glass buildings that have sprung up in the surrounding neighborhood. The High Line is a park built on an abandoned elevated railway.
This grassy area above 23rd St. used to be a prime relaxation/napping area. Visitors are no longer allowed to step on this area, but it was fun while it lasted. The glass building in the back is called HL 23, designed by Neil Denari. Guess what the HL stands for?

High Line Alchemy: Turning Blood into Gold

The Meatpacking District, the neighborhood surrounding the High Line’s southern section, was very different in the 1980s. By day, the stench of animal blood emanated from every cobblestone in the area. The ripest varieties were, of course, distilled in the summer.

Inside the dozens of meat processing establishments, fresh, semi-fresh, and rotted animal flesh was cut, chopped, gutted, washed, disposed of, and shipped. A rhythmic, bloody ritual that began in the wee hours and continued till late morn’.

By the time the sun reached its zenith, the meatpackers were home. When the sun set, the people who go bump in the night took over. High heels, cigarette butts, and spilled drinks absorbing and eroding the day’s accumulated animal blood.

Later, when night was stillest, the meatpackers would arrive anew, ready to repeat their red, rhythmic ritual. The clanking of their black, metal lunchboxes signaling to the lipstick-smeared night crawlers that it was time to retreat back to parts unknown. This cycle continued into the 1990s, until…

A cafe opened, then two. Restaurants, art galleries, and fashion boutiques soon followed. All that eating, shopping and gallery-ing is tiring, so hotels went up. No-man’s-land was now stylish.

Manhattan's High Line park offers exceptional views of the West Side. This image shows people enjoying a traffic-light's-view in an area of the park that sits directly over Tenth Avenue. A series of wooden benches descend toward large viewing windows that allow the public to watch the traffic on the street.
On the High Line you can stroll down paths used during New York’s industrial period, walk under a hotel, glimpse the remains of Pier 54 where the Titanic’s survivors arrived aboard the Carpathia, watch and listen to public art exhibitons, enjoy fantastic views of Hudson River sunsets, or just relax and watch the traffic on 10th Ave.

Friends in High (Line) Places

Rents increased and interested parties tipped their noses up. The stench of money now overpowered the aroma of blood. The demolition ball swung closer to the High Line.

In 1999, Robert Hammond and Joshua David, two area residents, listened to their instincts: Build a park on the High Line and the surrounding area will blossom. But how do you build a park out of old rails?

Peter Obletz’s legal skirmishes in the 1980s to prevent the High Line’s destruction encouraged them. Through Friends Of The High Line, the organization they founded, Hammond and David broadcasted their message using old techniques (cold-calling, flyers) and new ones (websites, email campaigns).

The magic wind of publicity blew toward Mayor Bloomberg, Kevin Bacon, Hillary Clinton and others who liked the idea. Phones rang, letters written, meetings attended, donations received. Politics.

Between 1999 and 2009, their idea evolved from pie-in-the-sky to park-in-the-sky. The can do’ers beat the can’t do’ers. The underdog won. New York City won. Everyone who visits the High Line won.

Please see Getting To The High Line for public transportation options and elevator, restroom and bike rack locations. Learn more about You can also learn more about the High Line here.

 

The High Line, the park built on a railway that is one of New York City's newest attractions, is especially popular during warm weather. This image shows people enjoying a shallow pool of water to cool their feet.
Summer time–and the livin’ is feetsie. The High Line’s “Sun Deck Water Feature” cools and soothes feet during hot weather. This shallow pool is one of those “they thought of everything” details. The High Line project received financing from New York City, New York State, the federal government, and private donations to “Friends of the High Line.”

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