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The High Line – New York

November 27, 2009

High Line, New York

The High Line is an elevated freight rail track in Manhattan that runs up 10th from the Meat-packing District to 34th Street. It was opened in 1934 with the express purpose of getting freight trains off the road: to quote the High Line website, “so many accidents occur between freight trains and street-level traffic that 10th Avenue becomes known as Death Avenue. For safety, men on horses, called the West Side Cowboys, ride in front of trains waving red flags.” The last consignment of goods to use the High Line was delivered in the 1980s, but use had curtailed considerable since the 50s, and in the 60s the most southerly section had been demolished. The track sat disused for twenty years or more.

I first came across the High Line via Dan Hill’s City of Sound. At the time, The High Line hadn’t been rejuvenated and the idea of it becoming a public park was a fanciful notion on the part of a few interested New Yorkers, who were slowly but surely convincing people it was a worthwhile re-development. I thought it was an interesting idea, and filed it away along with all the other interesting ideas I file away and never revisit. So I’d forgotten about it until Imran Ali mentioned it again in a recent tweet, comparing it with a similar redevelopment in Leeds.

It's hard to capture lilac with a 3-ccd camera

It's hard to capture lilac with a 3-ccd camera

My wife and I had booked a week in New York in October 2009 and we decided a visit to the now visitable High Line would fit right into the kind of holiday we like, ie dossing about in a big city, walking the streets by day, finding a good bar or restaurant by night and generally soaking up the atmosphere. It also coincided with a little urban regeneration of our own, namely our (my?) on-going efforts to get our back garden into some kind of shape after years of neglect. So there was a small part of me that thought this grand project in America was something I could mimic in a small way in my own backyard in London.

Of course, plenty of disused railways have been rehabilitated over the years. The abandoned Clayton West branch line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway ran along the edge of the village in which I grew up, and had become a fetching wilderness we used as a shortcut between villages or a place to hunker down away from parents’ eyes until it was redeveloped for the Kirklees Light Railway. The former Great Northern Railway line is being refurbished for cyclists and walkers as the Great Northern Railway Trail, running through the Clayton Valley West of Bradford and over the rather splendid Thornton Viaduct. There was a time when places such as these were dug up or knocked down after they had out-grown their initial use, or were appropriated by developers who would plant houses in the middle of the track, blocking passage to the populous. It always seems a miracle when a council decides to do the right thing, to re-purpose something beautiful and make it available to the general public.

Rolling stock seats

Rolling stock seats

As it turned out, I walked the High Line twice while in New York. Once with my wife, when we skipped merrily down the former track as visitors are supposed to do. Then on my final day, with my wife away for an early flight and my flight not till late in the evening, I walked the High Line again, this time walking the streets underneath to see how it might have changed its neighbourhood since it had been re-commissioned. Not that I had anything to compare it to as it wasn’t an area I’d delved into before, but maybe that’s the point – it brings an area of New York into play that had previously been neglected. The High Line is clearly a sizeable part of the regeneration of the Meat-packing District: I doubt Stella McCartney or Helmut Lang or any of the other high fashion names would have chosen that neck of the woods just for the High Line itself, but the fact that it is bringing people into the area certainly backs up the decision to move there.

View across the Hudson to New Jersey

View across the Hudson to New Jersey

The High Line is beautiful. The iron structure is beautiful, the views from the deck are beautiful, the layout of the promenade is beautiful. You can tell such care has gone into this project. It helped that it was a glorious day when we were up there – New York, like London or even Hull or Scarborough for that matter, looks at its best in the Autumn. Somehow October-time, the sun strikes at the right angle to make the place glow, (provided you’re lucky enough to get clear skies: if we’d gone up the day after we did, we’d have been soaked). But regardless, the whole High Line environment is immensely pleasing. No two stretches are alike. Grasses, trees, flowers, embedded rail, sleepers – they morph and ebb and flow to create a timeless space which seems much bigger than it actually is. It took longer to walk the track, with all its viewpoints and items of interest, than to walk beneath it taking pictures, watching for traffic.

It will be interesting to revisit the High Line in years to come, once the trees and plants have had a chance to get established and grow, and once the future purchase and redevelopment of the line up from 21st has gone through. I’m trying to persuade my wife that next time we’re there we should give the Standard Hotel a try – we tend to stay uptown but spend our days downtown, in the Village or Soho or lately around the Bowery. Maybe we should be down in the Meat-packing District, closer to where the action is!

I’ve tried to select photos where the Above picture and the Below picture are the same stretch of track seen from different elevations.

Above Below

 

Most Northerly Section of the High Line

Most Northerly Section of the High Line, 21st St - there are plans to take it up to 34th St

 

Most Northerly Section of the High Line

Most Northerly Section of the High Line - you can just see the stairs up to the track behind the billboard in the middle of the picture

 

From on a park bench in the Autumn sun

From a park bench in the Autumn sun

 

Across 10th Ave toward the oasis of peace!

Across 10th Ave toward the oasis of peace!

 

Viewpoint overlooking 10th Ave

Viewpoint overlooking 10th Ave

 

Viewpoint looking up from 10th Ave

Viewpoint looking up from 10th Ave

 

Tunnel through the building containing Chelsea Market

Tunnel through the building which contains Chelsea Market. The coffee vendor was fantastic, friendly, taking photos for people

 

Restaurant in the Chelsea Market Building

Restaurant in the Chelsea Market Building - the picture on the left runs above the restaurant

 

Grasses and seats

Grasses and seats

 

Building renovation - there's a Stella McCartney just behind the photo

Building renovation - there's a Stella McCartney just behind the photo

 

The Standard Hotel

The Standard Hotel

 

The Standard

The Standard Hotel

 

High Line, last stretch

High Line, last stretch

 

Hector's Cafe & Diner

Hector's Cafe & Diner

 

The End, looking down

The End, looking down

 

The End, looking up

The End, looking up

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Imran Ali permalink
    November 28, 2009 2:06 pm

    I love the concept of High Line..I remember a couple years ago reading about a proposal to do something similar with a disused viaduct in Leeds’ Holbeck Urban Village on the south edge of the city centre.

    http://www.holbeckurbanvillage.co.uk/space-to-breathe/viaduct-skywalk.htm

  2. Imran Ali permalink
    November 28, 2009 2:24 pm

    LOL, ooops, I didn’t know you namechecked Holbeck until after I posted the prior comment!

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