Eco-conscious New Yorkers have reclaimed the High Line, an abandoned railroad bed, and transformed it into a place of rest and botanical beauty
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my husband and I set out for the High line, a most elegant public park fashioned out of an abandoned and neglected elevated railway, on Manhattan’s West Side.
We walk toward the Hudson River to the West 12th and Gansevoort entrance. The smell of the city is thick in the air, and the young, gray birch trees atop the High Line are beginning to wave as yet another 5 o’clock summer squall is blowing up. We are actually grateful for the low clouds eclipsing the sun and a brisk breeze relieving the city heat. The Art Deco steel trussing and railing of the High line stands out in its architectural integrity, heralding good things to come. Its gentle, graduated ascent is specifically designed to ease us to the top of a linear flowered plateau, which leaves us speechless. My first thought is, how deep do they plant the trees?—18 to 36 inches. Then, how do the plants stay alive?—five full-time gardeners and hand watering. The High Line is simply one of the most beautiful and creative rail yard transformations in a sublime endeavor to repurpose New York’s industrial past. Lush, native prairie grasses hula dance with the wind as it whips along the West Side. The Hudson, shimmering like a photographer’s foil in the distance, heightens the color intensity of the herbaceous borders. Pink meadow phlox, blue sage, and yellow foxtail lilies bob in the gusty mistral of Manhattan and are a heady surprise indeed. We find it hard to believe this first 10-block section of the High Line has only been planted one year.
The High Line was constructed in the 1930s above street level after the 19th-century train track proved fatally dangerous in the bustling commercial district; this rail line typically delivered domestic foodstuffs, bread, poultry, eggs, and manufactured goods to warehouses. Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, says, “The High Line began as a seemingly impossible dream more than 10 years ago.” David and another neighborhood resident, Robert Hammond, sought to preserve the historic rail structure and the wild mixture of volunteer trees, shrubs, and self-seeding flowers that had taken over during the prolonged years of disuse.
The genesis of this horticultural miracle is a marriage of public interest and private funds. The High Line was championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden; generally endowed by Diane von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, The New York Community Trust-LuEsther T. Mertz Fund, Greenacre Foundation, and others who joined hands with City Hall and the nonprofit conservancy to bring the production to high definition. The Friends of the High Line has just received the 2010 Doris C. Freedman Award “for preserving an essential piece of New York’s industrial history and transforming the High Line into an innovative public space.”
Happily, today, while strolling through this lofty wildflower garden, the 2 million annual visitors observe the bedding signs,” Keep It Wild/Keep on the Path.” The High Line maintains momentum, a perennial work in progress with the next 10 blocks, section two, due to open next year. So, for the greenest 10 city blocks you will ever want to enjoy, take a walk on the wild West Side—the High Line.