It took us awhile, but we finally made a trip to the High Line on what might have been the most gorgeous summer day here in NYC. I’d been anticipating the opening since I heard it was being developed into a public park 9 or 10 years ago. For those who are unfamiliar, the High Line is actually an old elevated railroad track built in the 1930s that ran on the West Side of Manhattan for 13 miles downtown to alleviate congestion and improve safety between freight trains and traffic. It was in use as late as 1980 and was almost demolished after all activity was abandoned. For over 20 years it stood as a curious piece of architecture that loomed ever-present in the middle of the building-scape on the West Side until an open design competition solicited ideas on what to do with the space in 2003. The High Line project was led by James Corner Field Operations, in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and opened in June of this year with Phase 2 to be completed next year.
I hadn’t read too much on the design before hand (deliberately) and had avoided seeing too many photos which was a bit difficult since it’s been well documented pretty much everywhere since the opening. But I wanted to be surprised – and I was. The High Line is beyond gorgeous and now just might be my new favorite place in NYC. We went late afternoon and had a picnic dinner, but I am dying to go there at different times of the day – early morning, dusk, sunset, and at night to see all the city lights shine. There are a few design references to the original railroad tracks and overgrown landscape, but overall the space is transformed. This is actually not my first time on the High Line. In 2000, my friend Pete and I snuck past a guard and walked up the ramp of where the High Line originates around 30th street (I was much more adventurous then, much like the time I jumped down into the subway tracks and into abandoned tunnels in the early 90s to go visit the mole people who lived there – uh, sorry mom!). Like many people, we were really curious about the elevated tracks since not much was known about it then, but we’d always wonder what was up there. So one day we looked.
As I recall we were able to walk the tracks to around 20th street, which coincides with phase 2 of the High Line project (the tracks take a bend and were blocked off at that point preventing us from wandering farther south). As beautiful as it is now, It was a different kind of beauty back then. Neglected and desolate, it was completely overgrown with wild grass and weeds mixed in with rocks and gravel that almost covered the tracks entirely. You can see photos of what it looked like here. There was some evidence of other people as we encountered a stray soda can or a group of rocks that looked like it had been arranged by a person. But walking on those tracks, elevated, but not so high as to be above the buildings, but high enough to have a view of the Hudson River and feel like you’re the only person in the city, was both peaceful, gritty and surreal. It remains one of my most fondest adventures in the city.