High Line Park is one of those high-profile, high dollar urban projects that succeeds. A friend called it the “ultimate urban park,” and it’s hard to argue otherwise. In brief, the park is an infrastructure reclamation project, reclaiming a bit more than a mile (so far) of elevated freight rail tracks that had been abandoned in 1980 and slated for demolition. Neighborhood residents urged its preservation, initially wanting to restore service to the tracks. By 1999 the idea of the park was being promoted by Friends of the High Line.
A competition selected the design team of landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Phase 1 opened in 2006. With two phases now complete, the park stretches from 14th to 30th Streets along Tenth Avenue.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but it bears noting that any landscape feature that can attract so many Americans to do nothing but walk a couple miles is doing something extraordinary and wonderful.
What I find really interesting about the High Line is how it contrasts our post-industrial society with the industrial one of just 80 years ago. (The High Line opened in 1934.) It is unimaginable, for example, that an elevated freight rail line could be built today over the top of occupied buildings in an established urban area. Even assuming that cost was not an issue, it sounds silly to even contemplate such a thing. Imagine what those same neighbors who protested its demolition would be saying if this elevated rail were a new proposal. The regulatory process, the property acquisition, every step of such a project would be an impossible hurdle.
And what would the builders of the railway would have thought of the High Line’s new life? It would have seemed an unimaginable extravagance, all that concrete and steel dedicated to supporting a landscape garden for strollers. It may have looked pretty decadent, certainly evidence of a lot of wealth spent in pursuit of leisure.
I loved walking the High Line. Although the particular opportunity seized in its creation is unique, its reclamation of relics of the age of heavy machinery and its transformation of them into a totally unexpected and delightful experience, provides a good model for creative thinking in the age of “renew, reuse, and recycle.”