Despite Central Park being one of New York’s most famous sites, occupying 843 acres, Manhattan isn’t exactly synonymous with green spaces. When you think of New York you think of skyscrapers; crowds of people; traffic; shopping; bright lights; and blaring cab horns – not green spaces and parks!
In October 2009 I went to New York and discovered a haven amongst the hustle and bustle of the amazing city. We stumbled across the High Line in its formative stages – not even the taxi driver knew what or where it was!
The High Line, a derelict railway that runs along the south-west of Manhattan, has been converted to be an elevated public walkway and is the perfect example of how a disused area can be transformed to create a beautiful, peaceful space in the least expected of areas. At 1.45 miles long it’s a great way to pass through the city (without having to stop for traffic) whilst taking in nature.
The last train used the High Line in the 1980s and for over 25 years it sat unused. Then after much planning and hard work, it was opened to the public. This took place in three stages. The first opened in June 2009, the second in June 2011, and the third and final section opened in September 2014.
When I returned to New York last year, the High Line was high up my list of things to do! I was intrigued to see how it had developed since my first visit and I was not disappointed. When I first visited everything was newly planted but it has now had chance to take root and get established.
It has all been deliberately planted to be natural and in keeping with its surroundings and origins, and you can certainly still tell it was a railroad. The planting is inspired by the natural landscape as well as the wildflowers that have grown through the tracks since the closure of the trainline. The tracks and surrounding buildings are fully incorporated with the walkway winding around and even under the tracks.
There are 210 species of plants on the High Line, the majority of which are all locally sourced. They were all carefully selected to favour native, drought-tolerant and low-maintenance species that could withstand the varied growing conditions of the area such as winds from the Hudson and pollution from the city.
It’s not simply just plants. In just under one and a half miles, the High Line certainly has a lot to offer. It has lawned areas, viewing decks, beams, beds, a sundeck, water features and secluded gardens to explore. There’s also the “Chelsea Thicket” which spans two blocks and features a pathway that gently winds through a miniature forest of lush dogwoods, bottlebrush buckeye, hollies, roses, and other dense shrubs and trees. It even has the original railway embedded into the floor for people to walk on.
The inventive design stretches beyond the planting to provide a real escape from the city. It’s the perfect area to relax with benches, sun loungers, walkways, viewing platforms, music, bars, coffee shops, markets and art installations – not to mention the amazing views overlooking the Hudson river, New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty to one side, with Manhattan on the other.
Whilst I was there I saw walkers; tourists; locals easing the commute; people doing yoga; budding photographers snapping away; couples on dates; students reading; and children playing. Just like the great city it resides it, the High Line attracts a true eclectic mix.
If you want to know more about the High Line I really recommend its website (www.thehighline.org) which is a fascinating resource for further information about the design, maintenance and plant sourcing – among many other things! But obviously nothing can beat a visit to see the real thing!