Friday, October 23, 2009

The High Line

Recently, I visited New York City and the first place I chose to visit was the High Line.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, the High Line website describes it best:  The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980. Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line works in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park.

IMG_2132 Entry/Exit to the High Line

In November, 2005, the City of New York took over the ownership of the High Line from the CSX Transportation, Inc.

The park was designed by Landscape Architects  James Corner Field Operations and Architects  Diller Scofidio + Renfro, as well as various other experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art, and so forth.   Construction began in the Spring of 2006 with the demolition of the old rail tracks and the first section (1.45 miles between Gansevoort Street and 20th Street) opened to the public in June of this year.

Basically, the High Line is a linear park suspended above the streets of New York City. 


The Walking Paths vary in size between 6 and 8-feet in width with larger gathering spaces at regular intervals.  They are constructed using a system of long linear and narrow concrete panels. 


The joints between some of the concrete panels widen to provide negative space for planting media and plants. 



To keep the masses of pedestrians from walking into or trampling over the planting areas, the designers used changes in elevation – a subtle, but effective form of traffic control. 


It was a beautiful and unified approach that was very effective.  As you can see from this photograph, the High Line was quite crowded on this beautiful day and I would imagine, that will be typical in the warmer months.


The details were lovely.  The designers included benches using the same dimensional concrete forms rising up in a vertical manner. 


Larger areas containing wood decking and wood benches marked gathering places that invited the user to stop and stay, as opposed to the linear areas that suggested movement and flow.  A great place to sit and watch the world go by!


This place was a terraced viewing area with wood benches that terraced down to a lower level closer to the street.  This allowed people the opportunity to sit and view the traffic and street life below.


The whole park is suspended above the New York City streetscape providing a different perspective of the city.



The Planting Design was done by Piet Oudolf, renowned Dutch Garden Designer and author, famous for his bold use of grasses and other herbaceous perennials en masse.  The plants used in the design are mainly xeriscape meadow-type plants, all hardy to the area, many of which were natives found growing and prospering on the abandoned rails for many years prior to the park’s design.  All in all, there are 210 species of plants used in the design of Section 1.  They were chosen for their hardiness and their diversity in bloom time from late January through mid-November.


Some of the plants that I saw growing there included grasses and sedges as well as perennials such as Black-eyed Susans, asters and Purple Cone flower and shrubs such as viburnums.  The overall effect was soft and meadowlike.  If you are interested, here is the Plant List used in Section 1.  Because of that harsh environment, it will be survival of the fittest.  I would be surprised if all of the plants specified will make it.  Time will tell!

Regardless, this is an outstanding pedestrian experience and a shining example of urban reclamation of a dead and dying eye sore.  It serves as a great inspiration for other cities to follow suit!  Next time you’re in New York City, you must visit the High Line!  For more information, visit their website.


  1. I like the concrete "planks" and the terraced sitting area. Steps are the greatest places to sit for people watching.

    There is the tiniest little high-line path at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

  2. Great post! I love New York and I'm happy to learn that it's getting greener and more recreational. I want to visit now, it's been too long.
    Have a great weekend!

  3. I never knew about this place/space! And I'm a NYer (well, LI really!) I'd like to visit again too! How about a PN field trip?

  4. I was very excited to be able to visit the HIgh Line in my recent NYC visit. Love the use of space and the plantings are fantastic.

  5. Gorgeous. I can see why a landscape designer would be there!

  6. I planned my May trip to NYC around the opening of the High Line, but it was moved to June :( Now I can't wait to return so I can experience it first-hand.
    Visiting virtually through your encompassing images is the next best thing
    ... so many thanks for the update, Alice

  7. What an amazing space and I especially love those benches! I will be there for the Friday thing if you do it so make sure you give me the heads up :)

  8. Who Knew?! Not I! I love this little gem above the city! How forward thinking to turn it into a park!

    Any other NYC gems (of the botanical kind) that you have found??

  9. What an interesting place... thanks for sharing!!

  10. I remember reading about High Line a while ago, before it was opened to the public. I think it's a great idea to turn the old railway line into a wonderful green space :-) The thought and work that went into it are really impressive :-)


  11. Wow!! I have heard about it, and seen some pics and drawings, but never to this detail! It's really a project that looks to the future of cities and what is possible with clever adaptive re-use. Now I can't wait to visit it in December when I am there.



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