During my trip to New York, I made a visit to the High Line, surely one of the more interesting urban parks in the world. The park swings through West Chelsea and neighboring areas of the city, running along a disused elevated train line. The old tracks are still in place, forming the backdrop to varied plantings of native and ornamental plants. A wide walkway runs the length of the park, liberally scattered with benches and overlooks. I’d read about the park many times and was eager to visit.
The elevation of the park gives a feeling of both separation (walking above the streets) and connection (seeing roofs and buildings up close). As a New Yorker friend told me, “now you know what it feels like to be a pigeon.”
Ornithological insight is not the only fruit of this remarkable project. What was a derelict and ugly piece of infrastructure has become a thing of beauty. The affinity that people feel for the park is reflected in the many nearby ads for real estate. The creators of the park have created desirable habitat for Homo sapiens, it seems.
The unspoken rules among walkers on the High Line are more congenial than those of the world below. This is a place where ambling is OK — a verb that gets trampled in the surrounding streets.
Megan Canning with the NYC Design Trust for Public Space (http://www.designtrust.org/) gave a great talk on this project as a guest of the Nashville Civic Design Center a while back: http://vimeo.com/14639991
From the High Line’s website: “The planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. The species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species. Many of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are incorporated into the park’s landscape.”
Along these lines: there was an interesting Q&A in ‘Nature Conservancy’ mag with Emma Marris, author of ‘Rambunctious Garden.’ “What we value and don’t value can change,” she says. “‘Weedy’ is an interesting cultural concept — in reality, weeds are successful plants. We should celebrate them, because they’re the plants we don’t have to worry about it. They’re gong to be fine. They’re the resilient part of nature…we have a long road to go before we look at an empty lot and, instead of thinking ‘neglected, ‘weedy,’ ‘trash,’ we instead think: ‘Oh, I wonder what species are here. Gosh, there must be lots of pollination going on in this area, and, boy, if I come here at a certain time of day, maybe I can see some neat bird species…But the weeds are the nature we’re beating back constantly.”
Desirable habitat for homo sapiens and les others, I think… More from the Marris interview: “Big national parks have an impressive amount of acreage, but if you look at doing conservation in all these little spaces, the combined acreage of those could kick the ass of the acreage of the big parks.”
In Tennessee, it’s largely your Real Estate Transfer Funds (Gov. McWherter legacy item) that’s accomplishing the conservation work in these “little spaces” – http://forevergreentn.wordpress.com/
Thank you! Great context. Canning’s talk looks v interesting — need to make some time to watch it. Having experienced the High Line will make it all the more real.
The idea of allowing the wild, weedy world to come up through the interstices of our built environments, then celebrating them in a park is beautiful. I really liked the fact that the tracks had not been ripped out of the High Line and that the “plantings” ranged from quite formal to almost feral.
The image of the little spaces kicking the butt of the big ol’ famous parks is a striking one. Makes a good point. There is synergy also. I’d bet that the people who stroll the High Line and connect with NYC’s wild side are more likely to support conservation of large parks, etc. I wish the reverse were true: that the “environmental movement” took more seriously the importance of connecting people to the community of life wherever they live — reclaiming part of our humanity. OK, that is a bit grandiose, but those connections are important.
Yay for the “little spaces” and thank you for the reminder that although these spaces can “just” happen (weeds springing unbidden), there is a lot we need to do to help the process along — e.g., your last point about transfer funds.
When my family moved to New York in 1985, we lived a block away from those tracks in the West Village. There was nothing there but weeds and graffiti, and the tracks extended further south than they do now. As a kid I always wanted to find a way up there but it wasn’t possible. Many of the tracks have been torn down in the last 25+ years to make room for mostly residential buildings that weren’t there in the 80s. In fact, most of that neighborhood has changed immensely from the true meat-packing district it was back then. I used to walk to the bus through mazes of carcasses being butchered out in front of buildings that now serve as high-end retail stores. Anyway, I think it’s great that the tracks were finally made into a park. To my mind they did a great job of allowing history (in the form of the tracks) to remain, while repurposing for a modern use.
Hi Tony, It is great to know that you grew up in that area and to hear your take on this (I can picture you as a kid trying to figure out how to get up there). I sure did not see a whole lot of meat-packing going on when I was there (except outside the clubs that were hopping even at 3 in the afternoon…), but the neighborhood did not seem to have entirely gutted and turned into generic retail. What struck me most was how the High Line gave people permission to slow down and interact with strangers in different ways.