Upcycling projects do not get much grander than the High Line . A former rail line that fell into disuse in 1980, this 1.45-mile stretch of elevated tracks reopened in 2009 as a public park. Beginning in the Meatpacking District and spanning the length of Chelsea, the High Line is now a world-renowned greenway and tourist attraction, with gardens, a sundeck, a lawn, a play area for kids, and art installations.
The High Line. Image: joevare/Flickr
Before it became a greenway, the elevated trail made up most of the West Side Line, a railroad line designed to transport goods between Manhattan’s industrial district, centered around 34th Street, and a terminal on Spring Street. Running between 10th and 11th Avenues for most of the way, the railroad coursed through a number of factories and warehouses, where the goods could be directly unloaded and loaded. The West Side Line opened in 1934, but within a few decades the growth of the trucking industry made it obsolete, and the line shut down in 1980.
Parts of the rail line were destroyed, and plans were in place to raze the rest of it. A group of Chelsea residents, however, banded together in 1999 to form the not-for-profit Friends of the High Line, with the goal of transforming what remained into a greenway. Local celebrities including actors Kevin Bacon and Edward Norton, designer Diane von Furstenberg, and Furstenberg’s husband, media magnate Barry Diller, helped raise funds as well as the project’s profile. The group prevailed, and construction began in 2006.
A stretch of the High Line in 2005, the year before the revitalization project began. Image: Geoff Stearns/Wikimedia
The first stretch of the High Line, from Gansevoort Street, several blocks south of Chelsea, to 20th Street, opened in June 2009. Two years later the second swath, from 20th to 30th Streets, opened; the third stretch, from 30th to 34th Streets, was unveiled in September 2014. The railroad ties have been covered with concrete and planked walkways that are flanked by more than 100,000 plants encompassing over 600 varieties of grasses, shrubs, vines, trees, and flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year.
Several areas of the High Line are especially lush. The Northern Spur Preserve, at 16th Street, is an homage of sorts to the flora that grew wild during the years the tracks were abandoned; it is thick with crabapples and thimbleweeds, hedge nettles and wild geraniums. Near 21st Street is the Chelsea Thicket; the willows, junipers, dogwoods, rose vines, and other shrubs and trees on the sides of the walkway here reach up and over to form a tunnel.
Elevated up to 30 feet above the street, the High Line offers dramatic views—and not just of Chelsea and the Hudson River. At the 10th Avenue Square and Overlook, at 17th Street, one can sit on benches and see as far south as the Statue of Liberty. From the block-long 23rd Street Lawn, it is possible to view not only the Hudson River but also the East River on the other side of Manhattan.
The Statue of Liberty is visible from the High Line’s 10th Avenue Square. Image: Tony Hisgett/Wikimedia
Other popular features of the High Line include the Diller–von Furstenberg Sundeck and Water Feature, between 14th and 15th Streets. In warm weather its oversize built-in chaises and benches are sure to be crowded with sun worshipers, office workers enjoying an alfresco lunch, and in early evening, admirers of dramatic sunsets. The water feature is a shallow trough perfect for dipping your hands and even feet during the dog days of summer. Little ones will insist on stopping at the Pershing Square Beams, near 30th Street and 11th Avenue. Here kids can play among the original steal beams and girders—coated with a safe silicone surface—as well as with built-in periscopes, talking and viewing tubes, and other interactive additions.
The Pershing Square Beams play area. Image: Shinya Suzuki/Flickr
Should you work up an appetite while strolling the High Line, you can duck into the Chelsea Market Passage. This covered part of walkway does indeed lead to the market, but from spring to autumn you can also stop for a drink and a snack at one of the food carts lining the passage itself, then enjoy your repast at the open-air patio. The passageway also hosts assorted performances and art installations throughout the year, as does the 14th Street Passage.
Specially commissioned temporary artworks dot the entire High Line. Through spring 2018 these include “The Forecast” by Dora Budor, a weather-responsive sculpture near 16th Street; “Giantess” by Sascha Braunig, a sculpture near 26th Street of silvery shoes fit for a gargantuan witch; and near 30th Street and 11th Avenue, “Hop, Skip, Jump, and Fly: Escape from Gravity” by Sheila Hicks, a colorful installation of twisting fiber tubes.
A one-of-a-kind urban oasis, the High Line has plenty to delight art-lovers and nature-lovers, kids and adults, locals and tourists. A literal and figurative high point of Chelsea, it is also a point of pride of the city as a whole.