Sustainable Cities™

New York: From high line to park

June 2009 saw the opening of New York’s High Line, a coherent stretch of green parkland on an old elevated railway on Manhattan. The new park immediately became a major attraction. A second section opened in 2011 and gave New Yorkers a 2.3 kilometer- (1.5 mile-) long green corridor. The High Line railway, which was in operation until 1980, now fulfils in its new function as a much sought after green area in the Big Apple.

The High Line, foto venligst udlånt af Jesper Nørgaard Pagh

From the 1930s the former industrial area in southwest Manhattan was served by an elevated railway, built to reduce the risk of fatal transport accidents at ground level. The line closed in 1980, since when it has been unused. Local property owners endeavored to have the railway leveled with the ground, while a group of committed inhabitants, the Friends of the High Line, have been fighting since 1999 to have the old railway opened as a public recreation area.

In 2004, the New York City administration granted USD 50,000,000 to the establishment of the High Line park. The first, southernmost, section of the park opened in June 2009 and it will in time stretch from the Meat Packing District in the West Village to 34th Street near the Javits Convention Center. The centre section were done in 2011 and a third section is under construction. The firm of architects Diller Scorfido Renfro and landscape architects James Corner Field Operations were hired to design the park and they were helped in their choice plants by Dutchman Piet Oudolf.

After its closure in 1980, the old railway line gained a reputation for its drought-resistant grasses, meadow plants and trees which flourished in the gravel beneath the tracks. This natural, original plant life is a central element of the High Line park. Some 210 different plant species have been planted, mainly wild meadow plants, most of which are endemic American species. The built-in benches and other structures are made of wood from certified sustainable forests.

Enjoying NYC from above, courtesy of Jesper Nørgaard Pagh

Pebble dash-covered paths meander from side to side through the park vegetation. In some places the paths are wide, in others they forked in order to soften the visual effect of the concrete. For users of the park, the fact that it is elevated above ground level gives them new angles of sites and new views over the city and the Hudson River.

The High Line project has been incredibly well received and is today one of New York's favorite tourist attractions. The combination of industrial architecture, Park vegetation and the beautiful view of the city and the Hudson River attract locals and tourists alike. Here they can relax, walk or eat lunch. The park's popularity is reflected in the visitor numbers. It attracted more than 300,000 people during the first six weeks, and as many as 20,000 people visit the park every weekend.

Friends of the High Line

The High Line would never have been realised had it not been for dedicated citizens who got together to form the Friends of the High Line.

In the mid-1980s, when the elevated railway was threatened by closure, railway enthusiast Peter Obletz worked actively for its preservation. His efforts led many years later to the movement behind the Friends of the High Line, which was founded by Robert Hammond and Joshua David in 1999. Both were neighbours of the elevated railway. The Friends of the High Line functioned as a grassroots movement, the goal of which was to have the railway area opened as a public space to the benefit of the city's inhabitants.

In 2002, after a lot of hard work, the Friends of the High Line finally secured the backing of the City Council. Since then, the organisation has taken an active part in everything from the choice of architects and the design team to studies of the viability of the project.
The work of the grassroots movement and its success has inspired many active citizens in the vicinity of the railway. In 2009, 30 large and small projects are either on the drawing board or under construction, all of them initiated by organised citizens.


Related cases:

Curitiba: The green capital

Copenhagen: St. Kjelds Quarter - the first climate adabted neighborhood

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009 / By Signe Cecilie Jochumsen

Last updated Wednesday, June 18, 2014