High Line gets high marks
By Pia Hinckle
New York has become a leader in urban green renewal. On a visit in June, I found that most of Broadway is now a bicycle path, Times Square is a pedestrian mall, and on the West Side, an abandoned elevated train track has become a garden.
The High Line is a New York City public park built 30-feet above street level on a 1930s era freight line. The park runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through Chelsea to West 30th Street. For 19 blocks, you can promenade above the cars and buses, over intersections, through buildings, and past old factories while experiencing architectural elements of the old rail line as well native plants and landscaping dotted with benches and view areas.
The park is open daily from 7 am to 11 pm to the public. While the park is fully wheelchair accessible, elevators are only present at a few entryways along the route. Concrete paths and cleverly laid out plants make each area feel unique in the design by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Plaza areas and thoroughfares under buildings serve as stages for art shows, a soundscape, and dance and other performing arts. Food is available at points along the Line in the form of mini-gelateria, a café, and bakery.
The original freight line was built in the 1930s to get freight cars off the congested west side of Manhattan. The last train ran in 1980. The elevated tracks remained and were slated for demolition when a couple of neighborhood residents (Joshua David and Robert Hammond) in 1999 formed Friends of the High Line, a non-profit that advocated to save the structure and raised the seed money to renovate it. The company that owned the railroad tracks donated them to New York City in 2005 and groundbreaking on the park took place in 2006. The first section (Gansevoort to West 20th Street) opened to the public in June 2009 and the second section (West 20th to West 30th street) opened in June 2011.
The High Line is part of a larger green Renaissance in New York that I noticed since my last visit about six years ago. Bike lanes and bike path/greenways have popped up everywhere. Nycbikemaps.com has detailed and interactive bike maps of the city. The subways and buses have new maps and displays that tell you how long you will wait and how many stops you have to go. Large pedestrian plazas at Times Square and Herald Square have transformed those areas. Much of this is part of PlaNYC, New York Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to prepare the city for the next 100 years. One of its many ambitious goals is that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Another is to plant a million trees throughout the five boroughs in the next ten years.