“HAVE you heard about the High Line?,” asked my hosts Tonypet & Jonah. Visions of a high-wire circus act came to mind, an image quickly rubbed out when I was told it was a railroad above street level. “It’s closed for the day, but if you get the chance, visit it. It’s very interesting,” they said.
Trains were zooming by above street level along the lower west side of Manhattan after it was raised from the ground it originally ran to rid the area of any more accidents. This was 1934, the year the new project of the city was opened-the High Line, a 21-kilometer railway system designed to connect factories directly to warehouses allowing trains to roll in the buildings and unload goods-raw and manufactured, milk, produce, etc.- without disrupting street level traffic.
Less than two decades after, almost half of the line was demolished after rail traffic dropped due to the growth of interstate trucking. In 1980, the last train on the remaining part of the line ran its last delivery of frozen turkeys. Soon after, it was slated for demolition.
Thanks to the Friends of the High Line, a non-profit organization formed in 1999, the demolition never took place. Their advocacy to preserve the line and reuse it as an elevated park, a greenway inspired by Paris’ Promenade Plantee, drew public support through the years that even the NYC government committed a hefty amount to get the plan into action.
The old railway’s transformation started in 2006 and in 2009 the southernmost section, from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 20th Street, opened as a city park. In 2011, the second section running from 20th to 30th Streets was inaugurated, and the northernmost section, donated to the city, extends the High Line through Chelsea to 34th street on the West Side Yards.
The High Line is the newest addition to the Big Apple’s list of attractions. The 1.6-kilometer linear urban park on the 2.33-kilometer stretch of the former elevated railroad system of the city offers a relaxing trek across Manhattan’s lower west side visited by the locals and the tourists alike.
But the reinvented floating rail track is more than just an aerial greenway. It is a cultural destination too with art and architecture integrated in its design with a curator to manage it. Along with the permanent art has been installed (one on the old loading dock of the former Nabisco Factory), the park will be hosting temporary art installations and performances of various kinds. The Whitney Museum is planning to expand on the site as well.
I walked the High Line as recommended, alone, and I had fun. When you make it to the Big Apple, visit the place.
The High Line is open daily from 7 am to 10 pm. The park can be reached through nine entrances, four of which are accessible to people with disabilities.