A November stroll along New York’s High Line had me falling big time for the elevated parkway that straddles the lower West Side of Manhattan. Despite dull, mizzy weather the walk lifted my spirits with a blaze of autumn colour and foliage in complete contrast with the surroundings of gleaming office blocks, swish apartments and old brick-built warehouses. The High Line promenades through New York City and ribbons its way between dilapidated warehouses and striking new developments with imaginative planting, reflective spaces and intriguing art installations en-route.
History of the High Line
Nowadays it’s an urban oasis but New York’s High Line started life in 1934 as a dark, steel structure nearly 30ft above street level. It supported a rail line that transported freight cars and their cargo of produce directly into warehouses and factories and became known as the ‘life line of New York’. A train carrying frozen turkeys made the final delivery in 1980 and then the High Line closed. Part of the structure was torn down and the remainder of the abandoned relic quietly evolved into a natural overgrown landscape until 1999 when it was threatened with complete demolition. At this point neighbourhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond stepped in. They formed Friends of the High Line to lobby for the preservation and re-use of the structure – their aim to create a unique and unusual public landscape individual as the High Line itself.
Where is the High Line?
The first part of the High Line begins at Gansevoort Street and extends to West 20th Street, crossing Tenth Avenue on the way, and opened in the summer of 2009. In June 2011 another section opened extending the park another ten blocks, roughly half a mile, to West 30th Street. The third half-mile-long phase opened in September ending at the Hudson Rail Yards leaving the park almost complete.
We started our saunter in The Meatpacking District on West 14th Street. We hadn’t planned to walk The High Line that day as it was drizzling and dull but we came across the steps leading up to it and couldn’t resist and as it was raining it wasn’t too busy. There are stairs and elevators to access the park at various intervals along the route and ground-level access at West 34th.
The park is interspersed with a series of unique features like the Gansevoort Woodland, Sun Decks, Washington Grasslands and Water Features, Chelsea Grasslands, 23rd Street Lawn and a wildflower field. The Sun Deck was one of the wider areas of the park and I loved how the wooden day beds were lined up along the old railway track like rolling freight in a nod to the history of the High Line. There were details like this all along the walkway that instilled a sense of the High Line’s original purpose.
The route rolls and bends slipping under three buildings at one point to form a short tunnel before breaking into the open again with views of The Hudson River and mid-town Manhattan. The planting is sympathetic to the structure’s abandoned years. When David and Hammond first viewed the High Line they were amazed to see 1.5 miles of meadow in mid-town Manhattan and this has been reflected in the planting with an emphasis on reeds, tall grasses and wild flowers. The Chelsea Grasslands were planted with many of the wild grasses and self-seeding plants found growing on the High Line during the time it lay dormant.
There are places to sit and just watch the world go by, like the point at where the High Line crosses Tenth Avenue, there’s an area suspended over the avenue, so you can sit and watch the traffic glide along beneath you. At one part there’s a huge frame, like a massive picture window echoing the old billboards, where you can sit and enjoy a classic New York street view and actually become part of the billboard itself.
Art on the High Line
Art is prominent along the High Line from graffiti on the walls of neighbouring buildings to installations in the park itself. Brazilian muralist Eduardo Kobra has transformed the original black-and-white image of a sailor kissing a nurse into a rainbow of colour which you can see from the High Line at West 25th Street at 10th Avenue. In fact, it’s hard to miss! There are installations which change with the seasons along sections of the trail.
The High Line evolves as you walk it; wide open with views of the city one moment and then you turn a bend, and you’re walking a narrow corridor between two buildings.
A lawn looms up and open space appears offering a more open park-like vibe.
There are bridge areas where you’re walking over planting on a layer beneath you and glimpses of the original art deco steel railings. Always a different view, a different perspective and a different feel to it. There are places to stop a while and soak up the environment, the planting and wildflowers. Sparrows flit through the grasses – a little haven in the city for them too.
The autumn colour was beautiful, especially against the backdrop of a grey day in New York.
Much of the design in the latest section, known as The High Line at the Rail Yards, mirrors the structure’s history, with raised rail tracks along the pathway and stretches that remain overgrown the way they were when the space was abandoned. The design includes sleek wooden benches that reflect the lines of the track and some of the original train tracks are set into the pavement and landscape.
The High Line is a unique way to see life in New York from a new perspective. Connected yet disconnected from the city, immersed in urban life and at the same time surrounded by planting, texture and colour. A meandering ribbon where you can walk or just sit and enjoy a little tranquillity amidst the roar of the city.
Where to stay in New York City
We stayed at the 4* Novotel Times Square New York which has fabulous New York views of Times Square. You can sit in the bar, restaurant or outdoor terrace for breathtaking views of buzzing Times Square and the city lights. Food and service are both excellent. The Novotel’s sleek, contemporary style is so New York and it’s in a prime location which is perfect for walking up to Central Park or downtown to Times Square. The Metro is nearby for exploring further afield. A hotel I’d definitely recommend and one I’d stay in again when I return to New York City.