The Park that Changed Manhattan (Hint: It Isn’t Central Park)

Shot from the High Line, Summer 2015/Maya Scheidl

Shot from the High Line, Summer 2015/Maya Scheidl

Whenever I go into New York for a day in the summer, there’s one thing I try to do every time – walk the High Line. I remember when the High Line first opened in 2009, forever transforming the way that people enjoy walking around the West Side of Manhattan. The High Line is a public park that is built on an old elevated rail structure that was in operation from 1934 to 1980. It is owned by the City of New York and is maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. It spans over twenty-three city blocks and crosses over three neighborhoods, including the Meatpacking District, Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton, and Chelsea. Not only is this a fun destination for tourists and locals, but it is also a wonderful example of a successful urban reclamation project at a site that was doomed for demolition. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ project description of the High Line, the mantra during the design process was “Keep it Simple, Keep it Wild, Keep it Quiet.”

Aerial View of the High Line (Site Plan Highlighted)/James Corner Field Operations

Aerial View of the High Line (Site Plan Highlighted)/James Corner Field Operations

The High Line functions similarly to a green roof, with porous walkways that have open joints to allow for water to drain between the planks, adjacent planting beds, and an irrigation system that allows for automatic and manual watering of the plants. This design, which allows for plants to retain as much water as they can, also cuts down on the amount of storm water that can run off into the sewer system. When possible, recycled materials make up the structure, including recycled steel and reclaimed wood. The High Line combines political, ecological, historical, social, and economical aspects of sustainability. A terrific example of the power of community activism, the park serves as a green space in the middle of the city, reducing the urban heat island effect and creating habitat for plants and birds.  It has demonstrated the ability of public spaces to attract tourists, businesses, and stimulate local growth. Since 2006, the success of this park has helped to foster one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in New York City, has allowed for new building permits around the High Line to double, and has accounted for more than $2 billion in private investments.

Site Plan of the High Line/James Corner Field Operations

Site Plan of the High Line/James Corner Field Operations

The High Line provides a unique urban experience, crossing through the varied city landscape and providing views of the Hudson River. While walking on the High Line, you feel like you get a break from the hustle and bustle down below, but are still very much a part of the city, removed but included simultaneously. The High Line not only serves as a much-needed pause from city life for residents and guests of the city, but it also represents the potential in other cities for successful reclamation projects and proves that a dramatic change in landscape architecture can increase the quality of life in urban areas.


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