The Highline Park Takes to the Sky

This week the Highline Park opened in New York City’s west side, spanning the section from Gansevort Street to West 20th Street.

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The Highline is an elevated railway line built in the 1930’s and later abandoned in the 1980’s. It with was stated to be demolished. Nature took over and the tracks of the Highline became overgrown with shrubs and wildflowers. The haunting images of this peaceful, neglected, elevated oasis brought neighborhood activists to campaign against its demolition and fight for its preservation and transformation for use as a public space.

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In 1934 when the Highline was built it operated freight trains from Penn Station at 34th street and ran all the way to to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It was designed to go through the factories and warehouses on Manhattan’s west side, allowing transit to transport meat, produce and other raw and manufactured goods by connecting directly to the buildings and avoiding street-level traffic.

The Highline Park retains the memory of the trains by keeping the railway tracks, beautifully weaving in and out throughout.

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The plants chosen are wildflower varieties that naturally grew when the Highline was abandoned. The elevated park still runs through buildings and in sections one can still see old factories with shattered windows, draped in graffiti and barbed wire, but there are also new and elegant views. Now the new Standard Hotel straddles the section at Washington Street, and we see high-end boutiques and restaurants where once stood industrial yards and meat packing plants, marking the neighborhood’s change.

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Making use of sweeping views of the Hudson, large reclining benches span a section of the promenade, allowing guests to lay in the sun or watch it set in the west. The Highline is unique among parks, the only similar re-construction of an elevated train line is found in Paris at the Promenade Plante (the planted promenade).

While the park now only extends to 20th street plans are to complete the entire length of the Highline leading up to 34th Street at Penn Station. (The lower section that stretched from Gansevort to Spring Street was not saved and was lost in demolition.) Currently the stretch leading up to 30th street is stated to open in 2010, while the fate of the ending railway yard lines from 30th to 34th street are still up in the air – since this section is owned by the MTA and Related Companies, a private developer. A public hearing is being held in the city today, Wednesday June 10th, on the fate of the railway yard.

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Friends of the Highline, the non-profit organization responsible for the preservation of the Highline and its transformation into a public park says:

“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.”

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