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High Line

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High Line
The aerial greenway crosses 20th Street in New York
The High Line, an aerial greenway, at 20th Street looking downtown; the vegetation was chosen to pay homage to the wild plants that had colonized the abandoned railway before it was repurposed
Map of High Line in Manhattan
Type elevated urban linear park; public park
Location Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates 40°44′54″N 74°0′18″W / 40.74833°N 74.00500°W / 40.74833; -74.00500
Area A linear 1.45-mile (2.33 km) stretch of viaduct[1]
Created 2009 (2009)
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Visitors 5,000,000 (2014)[2]
Status Open
Public transit access New York City Subway: 34th Street – Hudson Yards ("7" train "7" express train trains) at park's north end
New York City Bus: M11, M12, M14A, M14D, M23, M34 SBS at various places

The High Line (also known as High Line Park) is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) elevated linear park created on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line, in New York City.[1] Led by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, the design team reimagined the existing infrastructure as a "living system" that draws from multiple disciplines (including landscape architecture, urban design, and ecology) and has become an icon in contemporary landscape architecture.[3] Inspired by the 3-mile-long (4.8 km) Promenade plantée (tree-lined walkway), a similar project in Paris completed in 1993, the High Line has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park.[4][5] Its success has pushed cities nationwide to reimagine obsolete infrastructure as public space.[6]

The High Line Park is built on the disused southern portion of the West Side Line running to the Lower West Side of Manhattan. It runs from Gansevoort Street – three blocks below 14th Street – in the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea, to the northern edge of the West Side Yard on 34th Street near the Javits Convention Center.[7] Formerly, the West Side Line went as far south as a railroad terminal at Spring Street, just north of Canal Street. However, most of the southern section was demolished in 1960,[8] with another small portion being demolished in 1991.[9]

Repurposing of the railway into an urban park began in 2006,[10][11] with the first phase opening in 2009,[12] and the second phase opening in 2011.[13] The third and final phase officially opened to the public on September 21, 2014.[14] A short stub above Tenth Avenue and 30th Street is still unopened as of September 2014, but will open by 2017, once the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project is complete.[15] The project has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods that lie along the line,[16] and increased real estate values and prices along the route, the result of a "halo effect".[17] As of September 2014, the park gets nearly 5 million visitors annually.[2]


Walking path passing through the Chelsea Market building
The High Line Park between 14th and 15th streets where the tracks run through the second floor of the Chelsea Market building, with a side track and pedestrian bridge

The park extends from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. At 30th Street, the elevated tracks turn west around the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project[18] to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on 34th Street,[7] though the northern section is expected to be integrated within the Hudson Yards development and the Hudson Park and Boulevard.[19] When the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project's Western Rail Yard is finished in 2018, it will be elevated above the High Line Park, so an exit along the viaduct will be located over the West Side Yard, exiting out to the Western Rail Yard of Hudson Yards.[20] The 34th Street entrance is at grade level, and has wheelchair access.[7][20]

The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter, 10 p.m. in the spring and fall, and 11 p.m. in the summer, except for the Interim Walkway west of 11th Avenue, which is open until dusk. It can be reached through eleven entrances, five of which are accessible to people with disabilities. The wheelchair-accessible entrances, each with stairs and an elevator, are at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th Streets. Additional staircase-only entrances are located at 18th, 20th, 26th, and 28th Streets, and 11th Avenue. Street level access is available at 34th Street via an "Interim Walkway" between 30th Street/11th Avenue and 34th Street.[7][21]


At the Gansevoort Street end, which runs north-south, the stub end over Gansevoort Street is named the Tiffany and Co. Foundation Overlook,[7] dedicated in July 2012; the foundation was a major backer of the park.[22][23] Then, it passes under The Standard hotel,[24][25] and through a passage at 14th Street.[7] At 14th Street, the High Line is split into two sides of different elevations;[26] the Diller-Von Furstenberg Water Feature, opened in 2010, is featured on the lower side, and a sundeck on the upper side.[27]

Then, the High Line passes under the Chelsea Market, a food hall, at 15th Street.[7][28] A spur connecting the viaduct to the National Biscuit Company building splits off at 16th Street; this spur is closed to the public.[26] The Tenth Avenue Square, an amphitheater located on the viaduct, is at 17th Street, where the High Line crosses over Tenth Avenue from southeast to northwest.[7][26] At 23rd Street, there is the 23rd Street Lawn, a lawn where visitors can rest.[7][29] Then, between 25th and 26th Streets, a ramp takes visitors above the viaduct, with a scenic overlook facing east at 26th Street. The Philip Falcone and Lisa Maria Falcone flyover, as it is called, is named after two major donors to the park;[7][26] this ramp was based on plans for a Phase 1 flyover that was never built.[30]

The park then curves west to Phase 3 and merges into the Tenth Avenue Spur, the latter of which stretches over 30th Street to Tenth Avenue and will open in 2018.[15] On Phase 3, there is another ramp taking visitors above the viaduct at 11th Avenue, as well as a play area consisting of rail ties and modified, silicone-covered beams and stanchions coming out of the structure called the "Pershing Beams", a gathering space with multiple benches, and a set of three trackways where one could walk between the railway tracks.[31][32][33] There is also a seesaw-like bench, as well as a "chime bench", with keys that make sounds when tapped.[1] An "interim walkway" between 11th Avenue and 30th Street and 34th Street divides the viaduct into two sides – a gravel walkway and an un-renovated section still with rail tracks; this walkway is open only temporarily, and will close for renovation once the Tenth Avenue spur is completed.[34] The High Line turns north to a point just east of Twelfth Avenue. At 34th Street, it curves east while descending, ending at street level midway between 12th and 11th Avenues.[7]

Walking path on a rainy day
The center section, which opened June 2011


Elevated viewing area at 10th Avenue and 17th Street
Urban theater at Tenth Avenue and 17th Street: a window over the avenue provides unusual views

The park's attractions include naturalized plantings that are inspired by the landscape that grew on the disused tracks,[35] and views of the city and the Hudson River. The trail is made of pebble-dash concrete walkways that swells and constricts, swings from side to side, and divides into concrete tines that meld the hardscape with the planting embedded in railroad gravel mulch. "By opening the paving, we allow the plants to bleed through," said landscape architect James Corner, "almost as if the plants were colonizing the paved areas. There's a sort of blending or bleeding or suturing between the hard paving, the surface for people to stroll on, and the planting...."[3] Stretches of track and ties recall the High Line's former use. Portions of track are adaptively re-used for rolling lounges positioned for river views.[36] The 120-species plant palette, curated by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, includes rugged meadow plants such as clump-forming grasses, liatris, and coneflowers, with scattered stands of sumac and smokebush, but not limited to American natives. At the Gansevoort Street end, a grove of mixed species of birch already provides some dappled shade by late afternoon. Ipê timber for the built-in benches has come from a managed forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, to ensure sustainable use and the conservation of biological diversity, water resources, and fragile ecosystems.[37] According to James Corner Field Operations, the High Line's design "is characterized by an intimate choreography of movement."[38]

The High Line Park also has cultural attractions. As part of a long-term plan for the park to host temporary installations and performances of various kinds. Creative Time, Friends of the High Line, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation commissioned The River That Flows Both Ways by Spencer Finch as the inaugural art installation. The work is integrated into the window bays of the former Nabisco Factory loading dock, as a series of 700 purple and grey colored glass panes. Each color is exactly calibrated to match the center pixel of 700 digital pictures, one taken every minute, of the Hudson River, therefore presenting an extended portrait of the river that gives the work its name. Creative Time worked with the artist to realize the site-specific concept that emerged when he saw the rusted, disused mullions of the old factory, which metal and glass specialists Jaroff Design helped to prepare and reinstall.[39]

The summer of 2010 featured a sound installation by Stephen Vitiello, composed from bells heard through New York. Lauren Ross, formerly director of the alternative art space White Columns, served as the first curator for the High Line Park.[40] During the construction of the second phase between 20th and 30th Streets, several artworks were installed including, Sarah Sze's "Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat)" a sculpture made of steel and wood, located on the line near 20th and 21st Streets; this structure was built as a house for fauna such as birds and butterflies. Kim Beck's "Space Available"[41] was installed on the roofs of three buildings visible from the southern end. Three 20-by-12-foot (6.1 by 3.7 m) sculptures looked like the armature of empty billboards, constructed like theater backdrops, so they look three-dimensional from a distance.[42][43] Also installed during the second phase of construction was Julianne Swartz's "Digital Empathy", a work that utilizes audio messages at restrooms, elevators, and water fountains.[44]

Train on the High Line in the 1930s
Train passing underneath the Bell Laboratories Building, seen from Washington Street in 1936; this section still exists


Rail line[edit]

In 1847, the City of New York authorized street-level railroad tracks down Manhattan's West Side to ship freight.[45] For safety, the railroads hired men called the "West Side Cowboys" to ride horses and wave flags in front of the trains.[46] However, so many accidents occurred between freight trains and other traffic that Tenth Avenue became known as "Death Avenue".[47][48]

After years of public debate about the hazard, in 1929 the city, the state of New York, and the New York Central Railroad agreed on the West Side Improvement Project,[45] a large project conceived by Robert Moses that also included the construction of the West Side Elevated Highway.[49] The 13-mile (21 km) project eliminated 105 street-level railroad crossings and added 32 acres (13 ha) to Riverside Park. It cost more than US$150,000,000 (about US$2,092,151,000 today).[46][48]

The High Line viaduct, then a portion of the New York Central Railroad's West Side Line, opened to trains in 1934. It originally ran from 34th Street to St. John's Park Terminal at Spring Street, and was designed to go through the center of blocks rather than over the avenue.[46] It connected directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to load and unload their cargo inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could be transported and unloaded without disturbing traffic on the streets.[46] This also reduced the load for the Bell Laboratories Building (which has housed the Westbeth Artists Community since 1970[50]), as well as for the former Nabisco plant in the Chelsea Market building, which were served from protected sidings within the structures.[48][51]

Overgrown railway line prior to repurposing
Phase 3 section, looking west in 2009. The line climbs along the south side of 34th Street, and curves south
Railway tracks with the walking path cross 20th Street
Reconstructed tracks at 20th Street

The train also passed underneath the Western Electric complex at Washington Street. This section still exists as of May 18, 2008, and is not connected with the rest of the developed park.[48][52]

The growth of interstate trucking in the 1950s led to a drop in rail traffic throughout the nation. By 1960, the southernmost section of the line was demolished due to low use.[8] This section started at Gansevoort Street and ran down Washington Street as far as Spring Street just north of Canal Street,[53] representing almost half of the line. The last train on the remaining part of the line was operated by Conrail in 1980.[46][48]

In the mid-1980s, a group of property owners with land under the line lobbied for the demolition of the entire structure. Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenged the demolition efforts in court and tried to re-establish rail service on the line.[46][54] However, during the late 1980s, the north end of the High Line was disconnected from the rest of the national railroad system because it was expected that the High Line would be demolished.[55] Due to the construction of the Empire Connection to Penn Station, which opened in spring 1991, new tracks were routed to the new Empire Connection tunnel built underground to Penn Station. A small section of the High Line in the West Village, from Bank to Gansevoort Streets, was taken apart in 1991, despite objections by people who wanted to keep the High Line.[9]

In the 1990s, the line lay unused and in disrepair, but the riveted-steel elevated structure was structurally sound. Around this time, the structure became known to a few urban explorers and local residents for the tough, drought-tolerant wild grasses, shrubs, and rugged trees such as sumac that had sprung up in the gravel along the abandoned railway. It was slated for demolition under the administration of then-mayor Rudy Giuliani.[48][56]

Proposal for repurposing[edit]

In 1999, the nonprofit organization Friends of the High Line[46] was formed by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the neighborhood that the line ran through. They advocated for the line's preservation and reuse as public open space, so that it would become an elevated park or greenway, similar to the Promenade Plantée in Paris.[57][58] The organization was initially formed as a small community group to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition during Rudy Giuliani’s second mayoral term.[59]

CSX Transportation, which owned the High Line, had given photographer Joel Sternfeld permission to photograph the line for a year. These photographs of the natural beauty of the meadow-like wildscape of the railway, discussed in an episode of the documentary series Great Museums, were used at public meetings whenever the subject of saving the High Line was discussed.[60] Fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, who had moved her New York City headquarters to the Meatpacking District in 1997, organized fund-raising events for the campaign in her studio, along with her husband, Barry Diller.[60] Broadened community support of public redevelopment of the High Line for pedestrian use grew, and in 2004, the New York City government committed $50 million to establish the proposed park. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speakers Gifford Miller and Christine C. Quinn were important supporters. In total, funders of the High Line Park raised more than $150 million (equivalent to $167,450,000 in 2016).[61]

Walking path passing underneath the Standard Hotel
The High Line Park runs under the Standard Hotel

Reconstruction and design[edit]

On June 13, 2005, the U.S. Federal Surface Transportation Board issued a certificate of interim trail use, allowing the city to remove most of the line from the national railway system. On April 10, 2006, Mayor Bloomberg presided over a ceremony that marked the beginning of construction. The park was designed by the James Corner's New York-based landscape architecture firm Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with garden design from Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands, lighting design from L'Observatoire International,[10] and engineering design by Buro Happold[11] and Robert Silman Associates. [62] The New York City Department of City Planning director and Chair of the City Planning Commission Amanda Burden actively contributed to the success of project development.[63][64]

Major backers included Philip Falcone,[65] Diane von Fürstenberg, Barry Diller, and von Fürstenberg's children, Alexander von Fürstenberg and Tatiana von Fürstenberg.[66] Hotel developer Andre Balazs, owner of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, built the 337-room Standard Hotel, straddling the High Line at West 13th Street.[24]

The southernmost section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened as a city park on June 8, 2009.[12] This southern section includes five stairways and elevators at 14th Street and 16th Street.[7] Around the same time, construction for the second section began.[67]

On June 7, 2011, a ribbon was cut to open the second section from 20th Street to 30th Street, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler in attendance.[13][68]

In 2011, CSX Transportation, the then-owner of the northernmost section, from 30th to 34th Streets, agreed in principle to donate the section to the city,[66] while the Related Companies, which owns the development rights to the West Side Rail Yards, agreed not to tear down the spur that crosses 10th Avenue.[69] Construction on the final section was started in September 2012.[70][71]

The Whitney Museum of American Art opened its new building on Gansevoort Street, next to the base of the High Line, in 2015

On September 20, 2014, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the High Line was held,[14][72] followed by the opening of the third section of the High Line Park on September 21, and a procession down the High Line.[2][73] The third phase, costing US$76 million, is divided into two parts.[20] The first part, costing US$75 million,[74] which opened on September 21,[14] is from the end of the existing Phase 2 of the High Line to the line's terminus at 34th Street west of 11th Avenue.[20][75][76] The second part, the spur, was going to contain such amenities as a bowl-shaped theater but has changed and will provide more room to install ambitious artworks curated by the public art program. [77][78][79][80] It will also be integrated with 10 Hudson Yards,[81] which has already been built over the High Line Spur,[82] will host a plinth and open in 2018.[83]

Friends of the High Line[edit]

The High Line is maintained by Friends of the High Line, which was founded by area residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond in 1999.[46] The organization is largely credited with saving the structure,[84] by rallying public support for the park and convincing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in 2002 to support the project by filing a request with the United States Surface Transportation Board to create a public trail on the site.[59] Friends of the High Line also played a major role in the visual aesthetic of the High Line, holding a competition in conjunction with the city of New York in 2004 to determine the design team that would lead the project.[59] Since the park's opening in 2009, Friends of the High Line has held a licensing agreement with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to serve as its primary steward.[85] As part of the agreement, Friends of the High Line is responsible for the daily operations and maintenance of the park, which amount to more than $5 million a year.[86] The organization has an annual operating budget of $11.5 million, in addition to capital construction and management and fundraising expenses.[46]

Friends of the High Line has raised more than $150 million in public and private funds[46] toward the construction of the first two sections of the High Line.[86] Unlike the first two phases of the High Line, which the city contributed to significantly, Friends of the High Line was solely responsible for raising funding for Phase 3, which is estimated to have cost roughly $35 million.[14] Friends of the High Line raises more than 90 percent of the park's annual operating budget from private donations.[85][87] A 2012 donation of $5 million from the city was controversial since the High Line received more funding that year than most city parks did, even though Friends of the High Line raised an extra $85 million that year.[87]

Friends of the High Line maintains an office on Washington Street, near the park's southern end.[88] The organization has 80 full-time year-round employees and roughly 150 full-time employees during the summer season.[88] It has been run by president and co-founder Josh David after former Executive Director Jenny Gersten stepped down in 2014.[89] Previously, fellow co-founder Robert Hammond served as executive director until stepping down in February 2013.[86] Friends of the High Line also has a 38-member board of directors consisting of many New York City businesspeople and philanthropists, including Amanda Burden of Bloomberg Associates, Jane Lauder of Estée Lauder Companies, Jon Stryker of the Arcus Foundation, and Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation.[88]


The recycling of the railway into an urban park has brought on the revitalization of Chelsea, which had been "gritty" and in generally poor condition in the late twentieth century.[90] It has also spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods that lie along the line.[16] Mayor Bloomberg noted that the High Line project has helped usher in something of a renaissance in the neighborhood: by 2009, more than 30 projects were planned or under construction nearby,[12] and by 2016, more than 11 projects were under construction.[91] It has also helped to raise the prices of properties directly adjacent to the High Line by an average of 10% compared to properties located a few blocks away. Since the park's opening in 2009, there have been at least 20 properties abutting the High Line that have sold for at least $10 million, with the average apartment in a building directly adjacent to the park selling for $6 million.[91] Apartments located near Phase 1 of the High Line are, on average, more than twice as costly as apartments located between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, two blocks to the east.[92] As of August 2016, the park has continued to increase real estate values and prices along the route, as a "halo effect".[17]

Residents who have bought apartments next to the High Line Park have adapted to its presence in varying ways, but most responses are positive; some, however, claim that the park became a "tourist-clogged catwalk" since it opened.[29] The real estate boom has not been victimless, however, many well-established businesses in west Chelsea have closed due to loss of neighborhood customer base or rent increases.[93] Additionally, the majority of visitors to the High Line are tourists rather than locals, and the tourists tend to be overwhelmingly white while the demographics of Chelsea contain significant minority communities, many of whom live in two large public housing developments.[94] In a 2017 interview, Hammond said he felt like he "failed" the community because the High Line did not fulfill its original purpose of serving the surrounding neighborhood, which instead had grown demographically divided around the High Line.[95]

A walking path with a ramp
The third phase in September 2014, looking east from 11th Avenue

Crime has been very low in the park. Shortly after the second section opened in 2011, The New York Times reported that there have been no reports of major crimes such as assaults or robberies since its first phase opened two years prior. Parks Enforcement Patrols have written summonses for various infractions of park rules, such as walking dogs or riding bicycles on the walkway, but at a rate lower than in Central Park. Park advocates attributed that to the high visibility of the High Line from the surrounding buildings, a feature of traditional urbanism espoused by author Jane Jacobs nearly fifty years earlier. According to David, "Empty parks are dangerous ... Busy parks are much less so. You're virtually never alone on the High Line."[96]

A New Yorker columnist, in a review of the Highliner restaurant (which took over the space of the classic Empire Diner), complained that "the new Chelsea that is emerging on weekends as visitors flood the elevated park... [as] touristy, overpriced, and shiny."[97]

The High Line's success in New York City has encouraged leaders of other cities, such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who sees it as "a symbol and catalyst" for gentrifying neighborhoods.[98] Several cities nationwide also have plans to renovate railroad infrastructure into park land, including Philadelphia's Rail Park, Atlanta's Belt Line, and Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail.[99] The High Line also inspired the creation of elevated parks worldwide, being among the first of that kind.[99][100][101] In Queens, the Queensway, a proposed aerial rail trail, is being considered for reactivation along the right-of-way of the former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch.[102] Other cities around the world are planning elevated rails-to-trails parks, with one writer calling this the "High Line effect".[103]

According to some estimates, it costs substantially less to redevelop an abandoned urban rail line into a linear park than to demolish it.[98] However, landscape architect James Corner, who led the High Line's design team, noted that "The High Line is not easily replicable in other cities," observing that building a "cool park" requires a "framework" of neighborhoods around it in order to succeed.[98]

Due to the popularity of the High Line, there have been several proposals for museums along its path. The Dia Art Foundation considered, but rejected, a proposal to build a museum at the Gansevoort Street terminus.[104] On that site, the Whitney Museum has built a new home for its collection of American art. The building was designed by Renzo Piano and opened on May 1, 2015.[105]

In popular culture[edit]

The High Line has been depicted in numerous media works, before and after its redevelopment. The 1979 film Manhattan included a shot of the High Line, as director and star Woody Allen speaks the first line: "Chapter One. He adored New York City."[106] Director Zbigniew Rybczyński shot the video for Art Of Noise's recording Close (to the Edit) on the High Line in 1984.[107]

In 2001, two years after the formation of the nonprofit Friends of the High Line, photographer Joel Sternfeld documented the dilapidated conditions and the natural flora of the line in his book Walking the High Line. The book also contained essays by writer Adam Gopnik and historian John R. Stilgoe.[108] Sternfeld's work was regularly discussed and exhibited during the 2000s as the rehabilitation project moved forward.[60] In a similar vein, Alan Weisman's 2007 book The World Without Us discussed the High Line as an example of the reappearance of the wild in an abandoned area.[109] That same year chase scenes from the zombie apocalypse film I Am Legend were filmed there and in the Meatpacking District.[110][111] The 2009 hip-hop song "The High Line" by Kinetics & One Love is a pro-green song that uses the High Line, before its conversion into a park, as an example of nature's reclamation of man-made structures.[112]

With the opening of the High Line Park, many films and television shows have set sequences there. In 2011, the television series Louie used the High Line as a setting for one of the title character's dates.[113] Other works to set scenes on the High Line since it opened include the HBO series Girls, the Simpsons episode "Moonshine River", and the film What Maisie Knew.[111][114][115][116]


See also[edit]

Similar parks:

Neighborhoods, developments, and places nearby:



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Further reading

  • James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofido and Renfro, The High Line - Foreseen Unforeseen, Phaidon, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7148-7100-4.

External links[edit]