Monday, June 29, 2009

High Times on the High Line

Saturday I went up to New York with my parents and explored the newly-opened High Line. It's as great as the glowing review in the Times claims. It might be the best-designed public space I've ever seen. 
For those who don't know about it, the High Line is a park in the sky above West Chelsea and the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. It was an old elevated rail track for freight trains serving the area's factories, slaughterhouses, and warehouses. But the track hasn't been used for nearly 30 years and was viewed as something of a blight on the area until converting it into an elevated park (modeled after one in Paris) became a celebrity cause. As recently as March, it looked like this:
The new High Line, which opened earlier this month, connects wonderfully with the industrial-decay chic of the neighborhood, as it artfully combines plants and elements of industrial decay to replicate the feel of the old High Line - the abandoned railroad track.  The walkway itself is comprised of concrete laid to simulate wooden planks, and on the borders of the path they fade into the vegetation.  
Photos can't really capture the brilliance of the High Line.  Its greatest victories are intangible ones: feel and pacing. The entire High Line flows. It's like a slowly moving river snaking between the mountainous buildings and depositing into plaza-like eddies. Benches grow out of the ground. Pockets of plant-life open up and close. The path meanders and slows people down. In addition to the frequent benches, there's an array of chaises (some of which are set on rails). 
The pacing promotes observation and enjoyment; your awareness is enhanced and you find yourself noticing people, plants, and vistas of the city.  To aid in the latter, there's an observation deck with tiered bench seating and giant windows suspended over 10th Avenue. Three stories up in the air, you get a unique view down the middle of streets (in addition to the view down 10th Ave., the High Line itself gives great east-west views including out toward the Hudson).  The whole effect is to remove you from the city enough to gain a different appreciation for it but without completely disconnecting.
Photo credit to my father for all but the second.

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