In previous blog posts I have discussed the concept of a dérive, an unplanned walk through an urban environment, and also mused on why city dwellers might be willing to pay a premium for a view of nature. This week’s derive is a little less unplanned, but might be one of the best examples of the value of being able to experience a taste of the countryside within the heart of Manhattan. The High Line is a one mile long park built along a previously abandoned railway line on the West Side of lower Manhattan. Beginning in the Meatpacking District on Gansevoort Street three blocks south of 14th Street, and continuing through Chelsea to 10th Avenue and 30th Street, this unique city park opened in 2009, with a northern expansion opening in 2011. It has spurred real estate development in this area, and many of the newer buildings specifically incorporated the High Line into their building plans.
In the mid-19th century, there was a non-elevated railroad along 10th Avenue, leading to so many accidents the area was called “Death Avenue.” The creation of an elevated railroad along 10th Avenue eliminated many of these dangerous crossings, and the trains could stop and deliver goods inside of the buildings without disrupting traffic. However, by the 1960’s the railway was no longer used and much of the elevated area fell into disrepair. Scheduled for demolishment in the Giuliani years, it was saved by the creation of a non-profit organization, Friends of the High Line, in 1999. By 2004 NYC had earmarked $50 million to create a public park along sections of the remaining elevated track, and the first section opened in 2009. A huge success, the High Line has been virtually crime-free, in part because of the high visibility the park has from the surrounding buildings.
Starting at the southernmost end of the High Line, you can see the site of the new Whitney Museum of American Art, scheduled to move from its Lenox Hill location next year. Walking up to begin a tour of the High Line, you are struck by the wild beauty of the flowers and plants surrounding you, and the contrast of that with the gritty urban buildings rising on either side. The High Line seems an organic part of the neighborhood, with buildings seeming to grow around it. Walking along the High Line, it is interesting to see the railroad tracks appearing on occasion, sometimes recessed within the pathway and other times raised above it. The texture of the path itself changes over the course of the walk, echoing the changes in plants and flowers along different sections of the High Line.
As you pass 15th Street, look east and imagine the first Oreo cookie being made, in the same year that the Titanic sank. In New York, the layers of history are interesting to learn, this trendy neighborhood having seen many different incarnations over the years. When you get to 16th Street, consider popping downstairs to visit Chelsea market, in the former factory of the National Biscuit Company. Fruit, bread, wine, cheese, desserts, or prepared meals – there are a multitude of interesting shops to provide you with something to eat. At 18th Street, your eyes are drawn west to the fabulous Frank Gehry IAC building. Completed in 2007, it looks a bit like a huge glass bee hive. At 27th Street, look west to the south side of the street, and try and spot the McKittrick Hotel, not a hotel at all, but rather the home of the immersive theater piece, Sleep No More, created by British Punchdrunk Productions. I recently wrote a blog post about immersive theater in general, so for now, just note that it is an enormous theater/art installation/dance piece in which you choose which parts of the story to follow. Consider stopping by the Heath, a restaurant on the top floor of the “hotel,” or having drinks at Gallows Green on the roof during warmer months.
I recently went to a presentation of a new residential building being built a block from the High Line; although it is about 18 months away from being completed, it launched sales a month ago and is already a third sold. The High Line can’t take credit for the radical changes in Chelsea, but it is certainly a unique injection of nature into this quintessential downtown neighborhood.