Thursday, June 11, 2009

Abandoned Rail Line Repurposed as Unique High Line Park in NYC

Artist rendering of NYC's High Line Park.

The last standing elevated railway line on Manhattan's Lower West Side is being transformed into an ecological wonder. Rising thirty feet above the historic Meat Packing District New York's 1.45 mile long High Line Park opened to much acclaim this week after a 10 year odyssey from pipe-dream, through New York City's noted bureaucracy, to reality.

The unique park is a testament that old industrial relics need not be destroyed - they can be repurposed. Built in the 1930s to remove heavy freight trains from the streets of Manhattan the High Line had been wasting away and overgrown with weeds since the last freight rolled down the rails in 1980.

Or Was it?

All Aboard the High Line
The Friends of the High Line didn't see weeds growing in unused rail tracks - they saw an urban garden. Formed in 1999 to save the rail line and repurpose it as a public park the Friends of the High Line raised $44 million of the $150+ million of the project. The total cost of the High Line project includes the purchase of the lands by the city, the removal of lead paint from the structure and work on Phase II of the park which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010.

Once utilitarian in purpose, the High Line is now an environmental showpiece that is home to more than 200 species of plants, shrubs and trees. The species and spacing of the flora evoke the overgrown wildlife that first inspired the Friends of the High Line to fight for its protection. The concrete walkway that meanders through the park is meant to recall the railway ties originally there. Benches rise out of the grounds and the original art deco railings have been restored to include LED lighting that illuminate the pathways at night providing for a safe and secure evening stroll.
More than 200 species were planted in the 1.45 mile long park.
Park Spurs Growth
The original High Line, was 13 miles long when it opened in 1934. It connected directly to factories and warehouses along the way and in its time was considered somewhat of an oddity as it soared through city blocks as opposed to the norm of rising over city streets. Many of these factories and warehouses are now home to studios and converted to condos. News of the High Line Park spurred redevelopment of the decaying lands with more than 30 projects announced since work on the park began.

"We've thought for a long time that there's a great added value for having parks that goes well beyond what the investment is," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at the opening. "This is the proof right here."

The future of the park is secure through the second phase of expansion to 30th Street as it is in the hands of the NYC Parks Department. It is the section between 30th and 34th Street that is cause for immediate concern as those lands are in the hands of a private developer.
The park has spurred growth in the community.
The Path Ahead
Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, cautioned the City Council Zoning Committee earlier this spring that zoning for the remaining High Line land does not mention anything about preserving the High Line. Hammond feels that it is incumbent upon the city to, "initiate the process to acquire the remaining portion of the High Line from CSX as the first step toward preservation of the structure.”

A meeting on the future of these contentious lands is being held this evening in Manhattan.

Regardless of the outcome of tonight's meeting the High Line Park is a testament to New York's industrial heritage ceding the future for the environmental benefit of its citizens. The High Line Park is the result of a tenacious citizenry who can articulate a vision to elected officials and repurpose that which was once abandoned.

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