The High Line
The High Line on Manhattan’s West Side offers more than a spectacular view of iconic NYC landmarks. It provides New Yorkers and tourists with a serene, nature-filled park, a rare site among the skyscrapers that define the city. Such was not always the case, however, because between 1934 and 1980 the High Line was used as a railroad to transport supplies to businesses in Manhattan. The High Line was built during the Great Depression and served as a railroad until 1980. It sat neglected until 2009, in the midst of the recession, when it was turned into a public park.
Until 1934, the streets of Manhattan were crowded with trains carrying meat and baking ingredients to businesses in the city. The abundance of trains contributed to a crowded and dangerous neighborhood, giving 10th Avenue its nickname, “Death Avenue”. In an effort to avoid collisions on these overcrowded streets, men on horseback called the “West Side Cowboys” traveled in front of trains, waving a red flag as warning to those in their paths.
As a result of these dangerous conditions, the city and state of NY, in conjunction with New York Central Railroad, built the High Line as part of the “West Side Improvement Project”. By relocating the transport of essential supplies to above ground, the streets of Manhattan became less crowded and, in turn, less dangerous. During the Great Depression, Robert Moses used funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build the High Line because transporting materials by above ground rail was an affordable and efficient solution for businesses.
With the increased accessibility of interstate highways, however, transport of materials shifted from rails to roads. The High Line’s function diminished as businesses began relying on trucks instead of trains. In 1980, a train carrying turkeys was the last to utilize the High Line’s tracks, ending its use as a railway.
Thereafter the High Line fell into disarray, giving way to mother nature as the plants that once dominated Manhattan reclaimed their home. Speculation of the High Line’s declining function led many to voice their support for its complete destruction. In 1999, however, Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded “Friends of the High Line,” an organization that worked to gain support from celebrities, such as Ed Norton and Kevin Bacon, to spread the idea of transforming the abandoned railway into a nature-filled park. With the support of donors, architects and celebrities, David and Hammond ultimately gained approval from the city government and the first section of the park opened in 2009 as a public strip of land for all to enjoy.
The High Line stretches through the Meatpacking District, a neighborhood once defined by factories and manufacturing businesses. With the opening of businesses catering to social and entertainment purposes, the area surrounding the High Line has become increasingly attractive to visitors, making it the ideal location for this park. The district is now defined by “low-lying industrial buildings…home to many restaurants, nightclubs, design and photography studios, and fashion boutiques” (Neighborhood Info). Among the first businesses to follow this trend was Florent Restaurant in 1985. Several other businesses joined the restaurant, including Hotel Gansevoort and The Standard Grill, all of which contribute to the reformed atmosphere of the neighborhood. The area continues to expand for entertainment purposes with the anticipated 2015 opening of the Whitney Museum of Art (Construction Update).
In Mayor Bloomberg’s speech in 2009, he introduced a nine-point plan targeting unemployment. Part of the initiative to increase job growth was to open “the first section of the world’s most innovative park, the High Line” (Bloomberg). One might wonder why the city decided to invest in a park such as the High Line in a time of economic crisis. According to Hammond, “this is a good economic generator for the city” as architects and developers alike have come to the High Line area in recent years to establish and grow businesses alongside the park (PBS). The High Line has attracted customers to several businesses, including the “Cookshop” whose owner says “there’s someone here all the time now because of the High Line” (PBS).The value of land surrounding the High Line continues to grow as more people look for real estate or to further expand business in this promising area. Nearby apartment buildings advertise living “artfully steps from the High Line”. Hammond continued to explain that since The High Line opened in economic hard-times, “it made people excited, since there wasn’t a lot of good news” at the time (PBS). In addition to being both serene and beautiful, it is easily accessible at no cost–making it all more attractive during an economic hard time.
The High Line now stretches from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street, with a path surrounded by plants that offers a superb view of the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. The High Line is accessible by either stairs or elevator from many points along the west side of Manhattan. Its opening hours range from 7 am to 10 pm, giving all a chance to experience this beautiful park.
Aside from being a place for visitors to take a relaxing stroll, the park hosts special events, such as “stargazing at the High Line”. Every Tuesday, enthusiasts come to the High Line to admire the stars with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.
For those who get hungry during their visit to the High Line, the park offers a wide array of boutiques selling ice cream and other goods. The High Line is currently home to L’arte Del Gelato and Melt Bakery, selling gelato/sorbet and coffee, respectively. The park is looking to continue its expansion with the summer 2012 opening of The Porch, a cafe offering healthy produce from nearby farmers.
There are also “tours, lectures, performances, and events for the whole family [that] highlight the High Line’s design, gardens, history, public art projects, and more” (The High Line). Such tours will take visitors past unique art forms that are on display at various points along the High Line. Sarah Sze displays her sculpture, “Still Life with Landscape”, that attracts not only visitors but birds and butterflies that sit on the sculpture as well. The High Line also boasts artwork in the form of billboards and decorated containers, all which compliment the unique scenery of the High Line.
Since most of the programs offered by this organization are free of cost, they are particularly attractive during a time of economic turmoil. Other cities are now following New York’s example, including Atlanta and Chicago, both of which are currently working on transforming railroads into parks like the High Line!
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