High Line Park, New York

by Barbara Broadbent

The High Line is a 1-mile New York City linear park built on a 1.45-mile section of the elevated former New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line.

This elevated freight rail line was transformed into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side, and has been maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line, a group founded in 1999 by community residents at a time when the historic structure was under threat of demolition.

It is essentially a green roof on top of the railroad track, with multiple layers within the “living roof.” The vision was for an atmosphere “less like a park and more like scruffy wilderness.” A range of native drought-resistant plants including sumac and hardy urban plants is used along with scabiosa ( a pincushion flower), and Juneberry shrubs. Parts of the High Line use recirculated water, and plans are underway to harvest rainwater from the roofs of nearby buildings.

A staircase leads to a central promenade platform, offering views of the plantings. Ibe, a type of Brazilian wood, was used for decks and benches. The original 20 block project has been expanded to 30 blocks. The Park is now run by the New York City Parks Department. Because High Line demonstrates how derelict industrial sites can be re imagined, many other cities are exploring reusing abandoned transportation infrastructure.

Friends of the High Line employ youths aged 16 – 21 as part of its “Youth Corps” program. The High Line Schools Program now offer curriculum guides for grades 2 through 7. Class visits to the High Line are also part of the educational program.

Do visit this amazing example of good use of obsolete space in the city, and a smart use of space and structures. This is an ingenious way a creating leisure spaces outdoors in overbuilt urban spaces. And, needless to say, the nearby area is abounding with cafes, art displays, and entertainment of many kinds.