Image from http://www.thehighline.org
Pretty picture, huh. No it isn’t some wild overgrown African city, it’s New York 30 feet above street level, part of a project which turned a disused elevated railway running through Manhattan into the city’s elevated park in the sky. I love the American capacity to think and dream big and turn those dreams into magnificent realities.
In 1847 the City of New York authorized railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side. It was a great idea, but it caused a lot of accidents between traffic and freight trains. One of the streets it crossed, 10th Avenue, became known as Death Avenue, and men on horses, the West Side Cowboys, had to ride ahead of trains, waving red flags.
It got so bad that in 1929 the New York Central Railroad and the City and State of New York created the West Side Improvement Project, part of which was a 13 mile long High Railway Line 30 feet above street level. It was designed to go through the center of blocks rather than over avenues. It connected directly to factories and warehouses, so trains carrying milk, meat, produce and goods could roll right inside buildings without interrupting traffic.
It put the Westside Cowboys out of a job, I guess, but for everybody else it was great until interstate trucking made rail transport redundant. The last train ran in 1980, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.
In the late 1990’s two ordinary guys, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who lived in the area, founded Friends of the High Line to protect it from being demolished. They had no experience in urban planning or dealing with the City, but they saw how gorgeous the line would be as a public open space. They ploughed through bureaucratic red tape and managed to get City support and funding to save a portion of the line and lay out a planning framework over the next three years. And the project had wings.
In 2003 a design competition was held. 720 teams from 36 countries entered. By now it had become an international project and Mayor Bloomberg had agreed to City funding for it, and the State of New York had come on board. The team chosen included a landscape architecture firm, an architecture firm, experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art.
The first phase of construction started in April 2006, and by June last year it was complete. 2.3 km of self-seeded wild sections, others with lush lawns, benches and boardwalks, and others with more formal landscaping. And a river runs through it. 30 feet above the chaotic traffic in downtown Manhattan. And all because of two guys with a dream and the gutzpah to do something about it, to start even though they didn’t have any knowledge about how to finish. And they had the patience stay with the dream until it had become a reality.
What a great way to step out of history. If you let them, dreams will have their way. The image below is what the line looked like before it was developed. To learn more and see some really fabulous pictures on the High Line site, click the link: http://www.thehighline.org or either of the images.