High Line Park is an innovative use of old infrastructure to create something that is both new and unique. The park is situated on an elevated section of the old disused West Side Line railroad in Chelsea, New York. It features beautiful views over the city below and has been turned into a wonderful green space among the busy hubbub of the Big Apple.
The rail line was born in 1847, when the City of New York gave the go ahead for railroad tracks at street level down Manhattan West for freight shipping. The only safety protocol undertaken at the time was the employment of a few hired men on horseback who would ride ahead of the train and wave flags; they were known as the “West Side Cowboys”. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t enough to protect citizens or other road users from the trains barreling down the public road and the accidents numbered highly enough to earn Tenth Avenue the new name of Death Avenue. Years of debate followed concerning the hazard, and the city agreed to the West Side Improvement Project in 1929. The brainchild of Robert Moses, the project included the 13-mile West Side Elevated Highway in order to bypass the railroad crossings at street level. The railroad served New York well until the rise in the 1950s of the interstate trucking industry, and the southern section of the line was demolished in 1960 due to lack of use. The remaining track lay abandoned, disconnected from the national railroad system. It was only a matter of time before it followed the fate of the southern line.
However, in 1999 the nonprofit organization Friends of the High Line was created by Robert Hammond and Joshua David. They championed the repurposing of the line and its preservation as an open public space, fighting back against Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s proposed demolition. They envisaged the park as it could be and were sure the tracks could become a lush green space. Photographer Joel Sternfield’s images of the wildscape, a plethora of meadow-like flora lining the abandoned railroad, were used in public meetings and the promotion of the project and played a large part in securing the $150 million fundraised in support of the project.
On June 13th, 2005, the U.S. Federal Surface Transportation Board presented the project with a certificate of interim trail use, and Mayor Bloomberg officiated the ceremony marking the beginning of the construction on the project on 10th April, 2006.
Many claim the recycled railway acted as a figurehead in the revitalization of the Chelsea area. Since the park came into play, the surrounding area has seen a wealth of new investment and construction projects turning what was once a gritty area into beautiful, bustling section of the city. Many other cities have seen the enormously beneficial impact the High Line has had on the neighborhood and are looking to repurpose their own dilapidated or disused railroad infrastructure to similar effect.
You can walk the High Line and enjoy the 120 species of wild flowers growing in and amongst the walkways. During the summer, pop-up events and live performances litter the walkways, and all year round it plays host to various art and cultural displays. Restaurants, bars, and eateries punctuate the 11 entrances to the park. Whatever your plan, you can stroll along this historic rail line and always arrive at a new destination.