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  • Writer's pictureAlbert C

The High Line Park in New York's Meatpacking District

If I asked you to imagine a park in New York City, you would probably picture the giant, sprawling Central Park. But New York City has another signature park, a recent addition to the city, that is an amazing destination that will reshape how you think of city parks.

Called The High Line, this park was created atop one of New York’s historic elevated freight rail tracks down in the city’s Meatpacking District. Built in the 1930s to avoid the dangers of freight trains on the ground in a densely populated industrial district, the tracks were used until 1980. Since then, the elevated tracks stood idle, collecting trash and growing weeds. It was ultimately set for demolition until local community and historic preservation groups worked with New York City Parks & Recreation to transform the eyesore into a public haven and tourist destination.

The one-and-a-half mile elevated rail structure towers 30 feet above the street. The will and money to preserve and transform it came from local citizens, private companies, non-profits, and the office of the Mayor. Funds to preserve it come through a Federal program called rail-banking as well. Rail-banking preserves transportation corridors, letting them be used as public trails.

The creation of a park on the old elevated track involved stripping it of everything down to the lead paint, and rebuilding it in a community-minded and environmentally-conscious design. The green space has the relaxed, informal feel of the old, self-seeded growth that evolved on the elevated over the 20-some years that the tracks stood idle. Three-fourths of the plant species used in the design are native to New York produced by local growers.

Sustainable design means that rainwater is channeled to water the green spaces (which is one reason dogs are not allowed in this park. Their “water” would collect and in concentrated pools, killing the plants.). Some of the original rails remain alongside planking that has a smooth, boardwalk feel. There is art, a fountain of sorts, performances, video programs, and a sundeck, all for relaxation. And there are restaurants galore, making it a wonderful place to pass an outdoor afternoon.

The High Line was conceived and built as a green structure. It turns an old industrial artifact into a environmental asset. The High Line’s “Living Roof” functions as the world’s longest “green” roof. The planking design feeds water into the planting beds, saving on irrigation while reducing storm-water drain-off into the sewer system. The greenery mediates the “Heat Island” effect of city surfaces, increasing oxygen, shade, and habitat for birds. The materials used were selected for sustainability, including all the wood. Sustainable practices inform all decisions about maintenance, from the use of chemicals and pesticides to composting and snow removal.

The High Line is located on Manhattan's West Side in an area called the Meatpacking District. The first section of the High Line opened in 2009 from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened in 2011. The third and final section, the Rail Yards between West 30th and West 34th Streets, is still subject to negotiations with the owners of the at property.

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