Just before the new year, after months of reading about The High Line, I decided to visit this new public park in New York. The image accompanying this post is the first of several I hope to post from that afternoon over the next several days.
For the benefit of those completely unfamiliar with the city’s geography, and even those who may have been away for a while and therefore not aware of what has been going on for the last several years in this part of the city, a few words of explanation might be in order:
The High Line is the remnant of a freight line elevated above the streets of a portion of Manhattan’s West Side. In 1929, following nearly eight decades of collisions between freight trains and street-level traffic, the City and State of New York agreed, with the New York Central Railroad, on the West Side Improvement Project, which eliminated street-level railroad crossings.
As a result of the agreement, the High Line opened five years later, lifting freight traffic 30 feet in the air while traversing the center of blocks rather than across avenues—thus avoiding one of the pet peeves of city residents within earshot of elevated subways. Unfortunately, once the massive construction of highways in the 1950s brought about a boom in interstate trucking, the High Line fell into disuse, with its last operation (pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys) occurring in 1980.
Over the next two decades, preservationists battled an attempt to demolish the structure. Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 in order to preserve the space as an elevated public park. This nonprofit conservancy now works with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to oversee its maintenance, operations and public programming. (A tip of the hat goes to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, though often overly beholden to business interests, was farsighted enough to recognize the value of this open space to city residents. The reward, as discussed in this post from WNYC three years ago, was economic revitalization in the streets adjoining the park.)
Visitors can now access the High Line between 10th and 11th Avenues at several points from Gansevoort to 30th Streets. The last count I came across indicated that 3.7 million visitors had come to this stretch of land, cutting through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton neighborhoods. Walking up from 20th Street, I found it a breathtaking view of this part of the city—and, judging from the crowd (according to Friends of the High Line, about evenly divided between residents and out of towners), many agreed with me.