Living the High (Line) life

Living the High (Line) life

I was in New York last week for the first time in my life. My trip was only four days and I feel like I only saw 1% of the city. I think I always assumed, being the small city bumpkin that I am, that New Yorkers were on another level in terms of their lifestyles because of the population density, etc. But after sitting on some patios and sidewalk cafes eavesdropping on what I assumed was the locals, they are just like us. Like, you know how there are people everywhere that live in their bubbles and talk about not having visited certain areas in years? Well New Yorkers are just like that except they haven’t left like a two-block radius. The density is insane.

High Line – Highlight

The highlight of my trip was being called handsome by someone trying to sell me moisturizer cream. The runner-up was the High Line, an old raised rail spur line through Manhattan that was redeveloped into a linear greenway. The rail line itself stopped its operations in 1980, and the redevelopment began in 2006. It has spurred (nailed it) additional development on adjacent lands as developers have capitalized on the popularity of the park. The High Line has become a staple in Landscape Architecture students precedent studies and presentations and is heralded as an icon of contemporary landscape architecture. Why? Let me show you.

The Hudson Yards

Before showing you anything I should preface this with saying that the High Line is a linear park, not really for pedestrian commuters. It has hours of operation, and is full of tourists on the daily. It’s more for enjoyment than for cutting down walking times between The Hudson Yards and Chelsea. That being said, it lived up to the hype it gets in landscape architecture circles.

At the northernmost end, the High Line circles around the Hudson Rail Yards, an area that is undergoing a massive redevelopment. In this area is where you can still see some of the old rail line in its purest form, running alongside an asphalt pedestrian pathway with views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. Here’s what it looks like currently:

Hudson Yards aerial

The High Line is in red, and you can see a ton of development starting to occur via Google. From the spot indicated in yellow, here’s the views you get.

Looking east into Manhattan:

view of Hudson Yards from the High Line

And looking west towards New Jersey:

rail ties stacked up to climb on for better views

Love that subtle homage to the former purpose with rail ties stacked up for a seating/viewing area.

Here is what the finished product will look like once fully developed:

Hudson's Yard master plan

A school in an urban setting with no large swaths of underutilized soccer fields or baseball diamonds attached to it? This is where you start noticing how much different New York is.

Form and Function

As you make your way south on the High Line, there are other activity areas that break up the long stretches of walkways, including more rail-inspired seating areas overlooking the River:

rustic seating mimicking rail ties

A children’s play area with places to climb and crawl:

children's play areas built into the High Line

Seating areas built into the railing and highlighting different views of New York:

landscaped edges and built-in seating
views of Manhattan from the High Line

Seating areas off the main path and covered with a canopy of trees to escape the heat momentarily, or for longer periods of time:

seating areas surrounded by vegetation

And lawn areas that can be used for programs and events, or just lying around:

gathering space on the High Line

THE gathering space

There are areas I didn’t get pictures of because of crowds, but this shows a fairly complete cross-section of attractions. The High Line has become such an icon that there are special events almost daily, including group activities like Tai Chi, dance parties and stargazing. It’s amazing what a well designed park can do for a community. The Chelsea neighbourhood has seen a huge boost in redevelopment activity thanks to the influx of tourists and people wanting to live near the High Line. Edmonton can learn a thing or two about greenway design from the High Line. The redevelopment efforts include some pretty high-end units designed by world-renowned architects like Zaha Hadid:

Zaha Hadid building with connection to the High LIne

Each of these buildings has a direct and secure access to the High Line

Incorporating primarily local plant and tree species ensures the long-term sustainability of the landscaped areas. It also reduces the amount of maintenance required to keep it up. That’s why everything looks so overgrown and bushy. Further, the concrete used for the walkway swells and contracts based on time of year and temperature. This cool feature allows blotches of grasses and plant material to “bleed” through.

grass emerging through concrete

Personal Opinion

I only knew about the High Line from what I saw in pictures throughout school and the blogs I follow. I already had very high expectations, but honestly I was still blown away with how well designed it is. In terms of pedestrian experience, in the most urban setting possible, the High Line really brings you closer to nature. It’s a stunning combination of art, architecture and function, and was well worth the trip.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *