Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taking the High Line


High Line Lawn, 2011

Despite forecasts to the contrary, the weather was gorgeous when we arrived in New York this past Friday afternoon, which was as good an excuse to visit the High Line as I could think of.
For those unfamiliar with it, the High Line is a park built atop a former elevated railroad line that snakes its way along Manhattan’s lower West Side.  It once carried cattle into the city to be slaughtered and goods manufactured in New York out to the rest of America. Eventually, manufacturing declined and trucks moved what was left.
For years the High Line languished, mainly because it was up over everyone’s head and, like much of the decaying industrial area that surrounded it, out of sight and out of mind. Every now and then you’d see a series of photographs by someone who’d snuck up onto the High Line and documented the abandoned tracks and wild vegetation. But by and large the High Line went unnoticed and unbothered.
Today the High Line has been reconceived by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro as a roughly 20 block-long urban park that connects the West Village and Meatpacking District at the south end to Clinton at the north end. The first section of the park was opened two years ago. The second section, from Twentieth to Thirtieth streets, opened earlier this year. You can get a better idea of the park here , and a full introduction by clicking on “View the High Line Design.”
We visited the first section of the High Line about a year and a half ago. For this visit we wanted to see the second, newer section. Because we were staying in Midtown and having dinner in the West Village, we started our visit at the Thirtieth  Street entrance.
The first thing that strikes you before you even ascend to the High Line is that the lot underneath the Thirtieth Street entrance has been transformed temporarily into a pop-up roller skating rink and, for the grown ups, beer garden. When we arrived the place was full of families and children skating in the sunlight while hundreds of twentysomethings sat on benches under the High Line drinking beer and tasting the delights from a fleet of food trucks parked around the perimeter of the lot. This enterprise is being operated on an experimental basis this summer. It’s easy to imagine it becoming a fixture in future summers.
Under the High Line, 2011

The first thing that strikes you when you climb up to the High Line itself is what a different perspective you have of Manhattan when you’re 30 feet off the ground. You start with a panoramic view of old rail yards at Hell’s Kitchen, a formerly rough area known being remarketed under the more genteel name of Clinton.
 High Line 65, 2011

Walking south from Thirtieth Street you encounter stone paths that vary in width. Some still have the old railroad tracks embedded in them.  Every now and then you encounter a section that dips down to seating that gives you a bird’s eye view of the streets below or that alternately climbs up over a densely planted stretch of trees and wildflowers. Because the original elevated rail line was designed to serve manufacturers, the High Line winds its way between and sometimes through old factories that today house everything from the Chelsea Market to The Standard Hotel, Chris Whittle’s Avenues school and Diane von Furstenberg’s fashion design studio. At every cross street you can look out in one direction to the Hudson River and to the East River in the other direction, reminding you just how narrow Manhattan is in some places.
Along the way are benches, lounge chairs, places to buy food or cold drinks and places to meditate and otherwise find silence in an otherwise noisy city. The High Line provides open social places and quiet private places. There’s a wonderful water feature for dipping your toes. There’s a further elevated stretch of lawn where you can stretch out a blanket or just wiggle your toes in the grass.
For me, though, one of the best features of the High Line is the way it compels the eye to look above street level and notice all the various features of the buildings that surround it. There are buildings very much of this time and buildings that look straight out of the Industrial Age.
The High Line is a place where the rich and the poor mingle without prejudice and where you’re as likely to trip over a celebrity as an unknown.
The tourism marketing people in Asheville, North Carolina, have long said that “Altitude affects attitude.” That certainly applies to a visit to the High Line. You can climb to the Thirtieth street platform full of all the stresses and tension a city like New York can create. When you descend the stairs to Gansevoort Street at the southern end, you’re a different person, calmed and refreshed and ready to take on the city again.
 High Line 35, 2011



  1. An excellent use of space! I'd love to see it.

  2. I have yet to see it. All my family has excepting for me, and I love it. A friend of mine from when I was in high school now writes for NY magazine. He lived in the city for years, and he's friends with Martin Scorsese, who used him as a resource in his filming of "Gangs of New York," because he wrote a book called "Low Life," about the early years of squalid NYC, and is a big authority on all of that.

    When I was reading your description of the High Line, I was thinking how much I'd like it, but I also thought about how much Luc would NOT like that it's being gentrified. He loves all the decay and gloom of the old NY, and is one of those who thinks it's been made too bourgois now. Me...I'd love it.