See What the Last Stretch of the High Line Looks Like
NEW YORK—Somehow, outdoors at 30 feet above street level, everything is beautiful; even industrial traffic, mused Joshua David, co-founder of the beloved High Line, earlier this year while celebrating the park’s fifth anniversary.
On 17th Street, a downward-looking window gives park goers a glimpse of 10th Avenue traffic. It’s a scene one wouldn’t give a second glance from the sidewalk, but the elevated space seems to always have a spectator or two.
For visitors walking up and down the newly opened third section of the park—the Rail Yards—with the foggy view of the Hudson beside the rows and rows of Long Island Railroad trains, a block away from a bus parking lot, and overlooking massive construction of Far West Manhattan’s newest neighborhood, it was nothing short of serene.
“I never understood the point of it, until I saw it myself,” said Melissa Burch. “You’re elevated so you have a nice vista, but you’re close enough to the ground that you feel connected to the energy of New York.”
Sunday morning on the High Line, Burch watched her young son and daughter—ages five and three—run, arms out, over the rails embedded into the wooden planks of the park, excited to be on the Rail Yards of the park for the first time.
The sound of a train whistle carried over the park as Burch followed her children, taking photos of them with her iPhone, explaining to her son that the park used to be a place where trains ran.
Park hopping is a family hobby, Burch explained, and the High Line has become their favorite spot. The children have been coming since the very beginning, and now about once a month.
“It’s one of those things that it’s hard to imagine how special it really is, until you come to experience it for yourself,” Burch said.
The Finish Line
The opening of the Rail Yards was met with much fanfare Saturday morning, with A-list actors, officials from the city, state, and federal levels, and the community advocates who made it happen were joined by crowds of supporters.
“Once, we built subways and transformed farms into neighborhoods; now, we build public walkways and transform abandoned industrial zones into vibrant communities where New Yorkers and visitors live, work, and play,” said Senator Chuck Schumer in a press release, calling the High Line an indelible landmark of the city. Nearly 5 million people visit the park annually.
The nearly 1.5-mile stretch of rail yards had been slated for demolition when co-founder Robert Hammond heard about it in 1999, and the story of how the wild, abandoned rails were transformed into one of New York’s most well-loved spaces has become a global inspiration.
Projects resembling the High Line have sprung up worldwide, and the park itself is a must-see destination for anyone traveling to New York City.
“It’s city conservation at its absolute best,” said Dermot Cox-Kearns, from a part of Ireland dubbed the Garden of Ireland, who came to visit the park with his wife Jean on their trip to New York City.
“What they’ve done here is conserve the integrity of the railway track but turned it into something so wonderful and so beautiful.”
The Cox-Kearns are frequent travelers who had read about the High Line at the airport a year ago, but Sunday was the couple’s first visit.
“We just arrived here yesterday, and this was one of the big things we wanted to do,” said Jean Cox-Kearns while strolling along the Rail Yards, where the couple began their High Line walk. “I just think it’s lovely, in this corner of New York. It’s so unexpected, it’s so tranquil.”
The $35 million northernmost section of the park loops around what will become the Hudson Yards redevelopment, from 30th to 34th Streets.
It retains more of the wild, natural feel of the tracks that inspired the High Line to begin with, but the landscaping is not any less polished than the first and second segments.
The Rail Yards starts with the 30th Street Grove, a gathering space with peel-up benches in the picnic area and a chime feature for children. Then there are three linear walks incorporating the original rail tracks, before running over 11th Avenue via bridge.
Next to it is the Pershing Square Beams, a play space for children. The northernmost section is the Interim Walkway, a simple path with self-seeded plans, a temporary feature awaiting renovation.
This leaves just the Spur, the sheltered, bowl-shaped amphitheater of green with seating, which will open next year and mark the completion of the park.
“You see the living city from here,” said Dermot Cox-Kearns, gesturing across the Pershing Square Beams.
History & Design
Originally built in 1934, the High Line rails were meant to carry freight above Manhattan’s largest industrial district. With the rise of trucking, train traffic decreased until it came to a stop in 1980.
In 1999, upon discovering the rails were slated for demolition, neighborhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond co-founded Friends of the High Line.
“I first fell in love with the High Line from the street. I loved the structure, the rivets, but then when I walked up there, there was a mile and a half of wildflowers running right through the city,” Hammond told the American Society of Landscape Architects in an interview.
“That’s what I really fell in love with: the combination of this wild landscape on top of this industrial structure in the middle of the city.”
The park broke ground in 2006, and in 2009, the first section opened to the public.
Plants were completely replanted, but in a way that the landscape could mimic the self-seeded landscape, thus inspiring the advocacy that created the park.
The 223 blooms picked for the park this season were chosen for their hardness and sustainability, and many are species that originally grew on the rail beds.
In 2011, the second section from 20th to 30th Streets opened.
This week, the third and northernmost section, the Rail Yards, opened to the public, leaving just the 10th Avenue Spur and an Interim Walkway on the Rail Yards to be completed.
“This latter section along 12th Avenue is perhaps the most authentically subtle design, where the “original” High Line landscape, with its self-sown grasses and flowers emerging from old tracks, wood ties, and stone ballast, remains intact,” landscape architects James Corner Field Operations stated in a press release.