When people think of New York City parks they think Central Park, naturally. Last summer, however, one of the most unique parks in the world opened on the West side of our little island. This park has a long, tumultuous and inspiring history and, not to mention, it’s the coolest unconventional park you’ve ever seen. Though I had been to the park before, regrettably sunburned walking on its elevated tracks, my friend arranged for us to take a horticultural tour of The High Line so we could fully appreciate its progress and foliage.
So what is The High Line anyway? The park starts at Gansevoort St. in the meatpacking district and follows an old elevated train bed up to 34th St between 10th and 11th Avenues. Whereas Chicago’s elevated train is for transporting people, this one was designed to transport meat and goods from the Meatpacking District. The tracks run atop 10th Ave. and aimed to alleviate traffic from “Death Ave.” (10th Ave.) in the 1920s and 1930s where too many horse and buggy traffic accidents occurred amid deliveries. The elevated track approach was the perfect opportunity for the city to flex its growing muscles and showcase the technological wit of the Industrial age to improve efficiency for deliveries.
Somewhere between the 1920s and modern day, the Meatpacking District transformed into an area for designer boutiques, swank restaurants and legendary clubs thus diminishing the need for the High Line and meat trains. As the tracks grew decrepit the city toyed with the idea of tearing it down until two fools decided to rally the community to save the structure in some capacity, completely unaware that a wooded wilderness had been growing atop of the abandoned train beds. Over the course of a decade, landscape architects (James Corner) and architectural firm diller scofidio + renfro (you know, the ballers that brought us Lincoln Center and Juilliard redesigns) came together to create the detailed, yet minimalist design for the park we see today. I’ve tried to think of some other park I’ve been to in the world that has switch grass and grey birch trees growing, yet also offers spectacular views of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Hoboken. Nada. And just a tip—the best time to see this park is at sunset, as it is positioned perfectly parallel to the Hudson River to soak up every glowing sunset, and, if you’re lucky like I was, a rainbow too!
The horticultural tour was arranged through Friends of the High Line and guided by High Line V.P. of Horticulture, Patrick Cullina. This excursion offered great insight into the planning and care that went into developing the park. The plants chosen are intended to transition well from season to season and keep with the minimal approach to the park. The Gansevoort Woodland is home to many birch and service berry trees and as you walk north to the Washington Grasslands a clear aesthetic transformation occurs with grass mixtures and various perennials. As you see all this wildlife you’re also careening past, and through, the Standard Hotel, Diane Von Furstenburg, Chelsea Market and new apartment buildings that will leave you high-roller dreaming.
As things stand now, the park ends at 20th St, but come next year will extend to 30th St. There is a possibility to extend the tracks past 30th St, but that is up to an interesting city debate going on presently about what to do with the West Side Rail yards (demolish, preserve, limbo), which run 30th St. to 34th St. If you find yourself inspired by and committed to the development of the park, feel free to join the petition to preserve these tracks here. If you have yet to be inspired, I suggest you grab a friend and some vino and post up for a nice sunset view on the Diller-Von Fursternburg Sundeck, and, if you can manage to pull yourself away from general splendor, head over to the 10th Avenue Square where you can sit on one of the benches and watch the world go by through giant plexiglass overlooking ol’ Death Ave.