High Line: Railway Conversion, Art Space and Leisure Trail for New York

When people decide to re-purpose something old and of character into something functional like the High Line in the Chelsea neighbourhood in New York City, the result is a new common space, a park which adds valuable urban leisure space by recycling structures. A 2009 article by New York Times reporter Nicolai Ouroussoff calls the park Industrial Sleek, which is a good way of describing the space. The Wikipedia page for the High Line has about 120 references, many of which are New York Times articles and an indication of how media friendly the idea is. People want these kinds of parks, want to know about them and hear their stories. The battle to mix the ever changing natural and constructed world finds an interesting outcome here. 

The Battle For High Line Approval

The park’s original founders, Joshua David and Robert Hammond decided to form a community group in 1999 to help create something out of the space. After ten years of battles, public consultations, approvals, lawsuits etc., the park came into being. The organization Rails to Trails Conservancy, whose mission is to create more trails out of rail lines, has listed the High Line in it’s railway convert project hall of fame. It’s not hard to see why. There is a long list of contributors to the park’s construction including architecture from James Corner firm and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, garden design by Piet Oudolf, lighting design from L’Observatoire International, and engineering design from the firms Buro Happold and Robert Silman Associates.

Urban Ecology

Thinking about urban ecology, there’s a benefit to having greenspace where you can relax amidst urban structures. The wood for the benches on the High Line was obtained from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests (a forest sustainability system). Port cities like New York have fascinating ecological development, leading to population of the natural environments with plant species from abroad that sometimes hitch rides on freight ships in ballasts filled with soil. The grasses are reminiscent of seaside boardwalks, but in other areas there are birch and other medium sized trees to pass through giving shelter from the elements.

Public Art On The Line

Right now there is a show called Mutations which explores that connection between man, biology and technology and is on display from April 2017 to March 2018. Some of the artists on display right now include Radamés “Juni” Figueroa, La Deliciosa Show, which includes a tropical themed area with metal constructions and fluorescent lights. Larry Bamburg’s piece is a wildlife camera that is motion activated to get snaps of the birds as they rest or pass by. Also, a simulated tidal pool by artist Hooper Schneider is filled with colourful sliced geodes and synthetic objects.

As nice as it is to walk through, it’s hard to imagine living next to the high line because of the lack of privacy from all the millions of visitors per year taking pictures. One source says up to 5 million annually pass along the trail. Nearby real estate values have increased, not surprisingly, since the project’s completion in 2009. I noticed a sign discouraging from giving out money to panhandlers, but there was a distinct lack of the normal grit of an urban park, lacking homeless people and the normal stressed looking commuters. The views of the Hudson make for a nice backdrop of the trail, but the real jewels along the path is the views of architecture in the Chelsea buildings. It’s a unique public space, free, interesting to experience and a break from traffic. 

It will be interesting to see how the High Line changes over the years, but for now it seems like this is the railway to park conversion project to aim for.

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