It is a cloudy day in the city but that does not stop people from enjoying their day. Everywhere is swamped by crowds leisurely walking along. You might think this is some sort of suburban shopping mall but no this is The High Line in New York City.
I pass by two women taking a selfie together, they asked me to take their photo. They are two locals from the Chelsea area. I ask them why they come here. One of the women Alicia, 26 says “the atmosphere is completely different from anywhere else in the city.” The other Alexis, 24 candidly admits that she just comes here for “killer” Instagram shots.
I then move on and happen to bump into Tanja and her friends. They are all middle age women from Germany, they all came to New York for a short visit. I ask them why would they come here since they are staying for so little. Tanja said “I have read about this park in a magazine (in Germany) and I wanted to see what its like.”
While The High Line is well known it is not common place for tourist to go because when you say park and New York in the same sentence people instantly think about Central Park. I asked a bunch of people how they heard of this park, the majority of the people said they read about from different news organizations around the world. So many stories have been written due to the surprising positive impact the park had on its community. To understand the impacts we first have to first understand the history.
Before the High Line was the amazing urban park wonder that it is it was an abandoned piece of an elevated train track. In the 19th century New York’s west side was one of the countries busiest industrial waterfront. Due to the industrial nature of the West Side, it was not a very safe area for pedestrians with trains going all over the place. The freight trains caused some many fatalities that the West Side acquires the nickname “Death Avenue”.
After decades of debate on how to minimize the fatalities the West Side Improvement Project begins in aims to eliminate street level railroad crossings. The High Line an elevated train track is constructed during this project. In 1934, the High Line opens as an active freight rail line elevated 30 feet above the street. It was connected to upper floor loading docks of the factories. It was known as the “Life Line Of New York.”
In the 1960’s the industrial use of Manhattan’s West Side began to decline. In the 60’s the southernmost nine blocks of the High Line were demolished. In 1980 the last train uses the High Line. For the next 20 years the High Lines sits abandoned and not cared for. Nature begins to reclaim the land and over time an entire self-seeded landscape forms hiding the railroad tracks.
In 1999 the idea of transforming the railroad into a public open space is proposed. With a partnership with the city the High Line receives an initial monetary commitment in 2002. Following years of close work with Friends of the High Line and the City of New York, CSX (The owner of the High Line at the time) donated the rail line under the federal “Rails to Trails” program.
The first section of the High Line opens in 2009. Two years later a second section opens. A third section the High Line at the Rail Yards opened in 2014. When it opened it was praised by newspapers and magazines stating that it was the gold standard for sustainable planning. Even though the rail was built without a sustainable future, it was turned into one by the work of the Friends of the High Line.
The park has had a tremendous role in revitalizing the community. Since the opening of the park West Chelsea has become a very desirable place to live. By being a desirable place to live by, it has see a surge in businesses wanting to open shop in Chelsea.
The High Line gave a place for the community to come together and all enjoy the space. It makes people think that they can give life to something they already thought was dead.