By Bobbie Leigh
When Joshua David and Robert Hammond met for the first time at a community board meeting in 1999, they were dumbfounded. Not one other person was there to protest the destruction of a decrepit, elevated rail structure that snaked around the far West Side of Manhattan. Abandoned for years, the rails were a dilapidated wreck some 30 feet above the street. But David and Hammond were convinced the rail structure could be something else, something wonderful, a friendly, quiet, urban park. The chances of this happening according to Hammond was “one in a hundred.” Today the High Line is a superstar New York attraction, a grassy park with wild flowers, park benches, and a busy calendar of community and art events. It now runs from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street, thanks to a new section that doubles the park’s length, connecting three neighborhoods along the West Side. Another section is in the works.
First a bit of history. The city owned the land but was willing to have it rezoned for high-end development and as parkland. David and Hammond created the nonprofit Friends of the High Line which had tremendous community support and lobbied for the park. What made it a reality is the city government investing about $112 million, leaving about $40 million or more to be raised privately. You probably couldn’t accomplish a similar feat anywhere else in the city except perhaps Central Park. It takes deep pockets and high profile neighbors like Diane von Furstenberg and Chelsea art and boutique owners to get behind a project like this. But there was political will, social and celebrity clout, and bundles of money. The High Line is now a public park where you can sit on the grass or on handsome reclaimed teak benches made from abandoned buildings in southeast Asia. The Friends of the High Line operates and controls every aspect of the park from upkeep and maintenance to design and rules — no dogs, no bikes, no boom boxes.
10 Things to Love about the High Line:
1. It’s free and open from 7am to 11 pm in summer.
2. In the two years since it opened, there have been no reports of any crime—no muggings or robberies. It’s spotless and graffiti free.
3. The views are glorious. You can see the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, snippets of the Hudson River and New Jersey to the west.
4. A temporary public plaza at 30th street is an art space, Rainbow City, with playful, crayon-colored inflatable sculptures, some 30 feet high.
5. Glorious plantings – wild flowers, American holly trees, magnolia, a patchwork of wild grasses, bold orange butterfly milkweed, purple prairie clover, and ornamental white onion flowers.
6. Free guided walking tours every Saturday at 11 am.
7. Stargazing with amateur astronomers, Tuesday at dusk, usually 9:30 pm.
8. The panes of glass installation, The River That Flows Both Ways. It is located at the Chelsea Market Passage on the High Line near 16th Street. From a tugboat drifting on the Hudson River, Spencer Finch attempted to recreate the shifting color of water by photographing the river’s surface once every minute over a period of 11 hours and 40 minutes.
9. Public performances at the wooden seating steps in the wide area between 22nd and 23rd streets.
10. The Falcone Flyover between West 25th and 26th Streets. This is a metal walkway that rises eight feet above the High Line path, enabling an elevated view of the plantings and the city. (Another viewing spur is at 30th Street.)
The High Line is open daily from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM. Summer hours continue through the fall. Evening is a great time to visit the High Line—the sunsets are spectacular over the Hudson River, and the lighting system designed by L’Observatoire International casts a gentle illumination on the spring plantings to create a warm and welcoming mood at dusk. Please check the High Line Web site or follow the High Line on Twitter for the latest information and operational updates. And keep in mind that every Thursday in August , there’s dancing and Latin Music from 7-9 pm.
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.