High Line (the newest park in Manhattan)

Aron and I haven’t been back to the High Line since winter began, but this Saturday (before I fell ill) was a bit of a spring tease—an East Coast spring tease, that is—the temperature approached 50 degrees and it was sunny! Brave souls sipped white wine in parkas on the sidewalk in the Meatpacking district.
It’s hard not to love the High Line. It brings together the old and the new in a way that seems to capture so much about what makes New York such an amazing city. Essentially a park for strolling, a public space for gathering, the High Line is the reworking of a 1930s elevated railway; it opened this past summer.
Apparently, the trains that used to run up and down Tenth Street to supply local industry and distribute to the piers along the West shores of Manhattan caused a lot of chaos. Riders on horseback (“the West Side Cowboys”) were employed by the city to ride one block in front of trains waving flags or lights to keep pedestrians and runaway horses out of the way. The High Line roadway was engineered as a solution.
 Eventually the railways gave way to highways and portions of the elevated track were disassembled. Fortunately, a group of people campaigned to preserve it.
The result is this fantastic walkway—currently from Gansevoort in the Meatpacking to 20th Street, but eventually to end further north at 34th street. They’ve incorporated many of the old rails into the design (they first had to remove everything to refit the steel ballasts before installing concrete planks and plant beds), and the landscaping features native plants that replicate those which would be found beside tracks should nature have taken its course. It’s wonderful the way that the elevated roadway was repurposed while still referencing its history.
I’ll admit—I’m still a little shocked by just how popular the park is: The West Side greenway (the path along the Hudson) is one of our favorite walks and just a block or two away. Yet it feels as if people were yearning for space to stroll. But then, when we come up through the West Village and find ourselves in the stone streets of the Meatpacking, and come upon the High Line in the context of so much history, it’s easy to see why. The Meatpacking—with about around 35 slaughterhouses and meat distributors still operating alongside Ernest Sewn and Helmut Lang, and a sordid history—is this very trendy, fashionable neighborhood with a pretentious air but an undeniable, gritty appeal. It’s that perfect mix of polished and rough.

The High Line’s appeal means that it has its own web page, gift shop, and blog—oh, and it tweets, too. But of course!

(Historical photos of “Death Avenue” and the High Line above Gansevoort from the High Line web site;
Historical photo of West Side Cowboy from the High Line blog)

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