This week Highline Park opened in New York City’s west side, spanning the section from Gansevort Street to West 20th Street.
The Highline is an elevated railway line built in the 1930’s, abandoned in the 1980’s, and was stated to be demolished. Nature had taken over and the tracks became overgrown with shrubs and wildflowers. The haunting images of this peaceful, neglected, elevated oasis inspired neighborhood activists to campaign against its demolition and to fight for its preservation as a public space.
In 1934, when the Highline railway first began service, it connected freight trains from Penn Station all the way to to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It was designed to pass by factories and warehouses on Manhattan’s west side, allowing easy transportation of meat, produce and other raw and manufactured goods by connecting directly to the industrial buildings while avoiding street-level traffic.
The Highline Park retains the memory of the trains by integrating the original railway tracks, which weave beautifully throughout a colorful quilt of wildflower varieties that grew naturally when the Highline was abandoned. The elevated park still passes by industrial buildings, casting views on old factories with shattered windows, graffitied walls and barbed wire. But there are also new and elegant views of the Standard Hotel at Washington Street and high-end boutiques and restaurants where once stood industrial yards and meat-packing plants.
Large reclining benches take advantage of sweeping views of the Hudson, allowing guests to lay in the sun or watch its descent to the west. The only other re-construction of an elevated train line into park space is found in Paris at the Promenade Plantée (the planted promenade).
While the park currently only extends up to 20th street, future plans will lengthen the public green space all the way up to 34th Street at Penn Station. The stretch leading up to 30th street is set to open in 2010, while the fate of the final section of railway from 30th to 34th street is still up in the air. (Since this section is owned by the MTA and Related Companies, a public hearing was held in the city yesterday, June 10, on the fate of the railway yard.
The High Line is a monument to the industrial history of New York’s West Side. It offers an opportunity to create an innovative new public space, raised above the city streets, with views of the Hudson River and the city skyline. Its conversion is a global model for the reuse of transportation infrastructure, offering greening opportunities, alternative transportation options, and social and economic benefits to meet changing needs in post-industrial urban environments.