Constructed in the 1930s to lift dangerous freight trains off the streets, the High Line languished unused for three decades (the last train passed along it in 1980) until a group of New Yorkers had the bright idea to turn it into a very modern breed of public park in 2009. Now the second phase of its glorious reincarnation has just been unveiled, complete with wooded hillocks, stretches of lawn and even a series of art installations by acclaimed names.
The new stretch doubles the length of the park. Now one mile long, it winds its way from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street, connecting the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Midtown West along the way, and hurtling the city towards a new phase of regeneration. Flanked by new buildings by the likes of Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Neil Denari, the first section has been dubbed 'architect's row', attracting more than $2 billion in private investment to the area, and the new section is expected to do the same.
To mark its opening, ten dancers from the Trisha Brown Dance Company stepped onto different rooftops surrounding the southern end of the High Line to perform Roof Piece - the seminal work of the company's eponymous founder, a postmodern dance icon who fuses choreography with the visual arts. This was its first outdoor performance since its premier in 1971. As one dancer began improvising fluid movement signals, these were swiftly picked up by the next dancer, so that the piece appeared to ricochet across the rooftops. Unable to see all the dancers all at once, visitors strolled along the High Line to see the performance from different vantage points.
Roof Piece is one of five art commissions for the High Line that include an architecturally inspired sculpture from Sarah Sze; a sound installation, titled Digital Empathy by Julianne Swartz, transmitted through the park's bathroom sinks, water fountains and elevators; a rooftop sculpture by Kim Beck; and a series of photographs presented on a billboard next to the Line at West 18th Street.
Like with the first section, the planting on section two is inspired by the wild, self-seeded landscape that sprung up naturally on the High Line when the trains stopped running in 1980 and the design retains the original railroad tracks and Art Deco railings. Highlights include the Wildflower Field between West 26th and West 29th Streets, and the 'Falcone Flyover' between West 25th and West 26th Streets, where a walkway rises eight feet above the line, allowing visitors to walk through a canopy of sumac and magnolia trees and see the city beyond.
The park is the brainchild of a group called Friends of the High Line (headed by Joshua David and Robert Hammond), who formed in 1999 when the disused track was under threat of demolition. Spotting the promise in the gritty but wild and serene stretch of line raised 30ft above the busy streets of Manhattan, they called in the services of landscape architecture practice James Corner Field Operations, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and planting guru Piet Oudolf, to turn it into the feat of high design greenery it is today. Plans are now afoot to reclaim the final section of the track and complete the verdant trail through the heart of the city.
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Malaika Byng is an editor, writer and consultant covering everything from architecture, design and ecology to art and craft. She was online editor for Wallpaper* magazine for three years and more recently editor of Crafts magazine, until she decided to go freelance in 2022. Based in London, she now writes for the Financial Times, Metropolis, Kinfolk and The Plant, among others.
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