Chris Coplans, The Daily Telegraph, September 22, 2014
During the ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday for the opening of the final phase of New York ’s High Line, a touch of Hollywood glamour was added to the proceedings by Edward Norton. As a Friends of the High Line board member, the actor spoke passionately about this “citizen’s project blessed with advocacy from politicians.”
The $35million Rail Yards phase is the last section of the 1.45-mile linear elevated park to be completed. It anchors the northern end of the park and differs dramatically from the first two phases, which wind their way between and sometimes through the old industrial buildings of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.
In contrast, the final phase loops round the rail yards between W30 and W34 streets, affording unobstructed vistas of the Hudson River and Jersey shoreline to the west, and the vast rail yards to the east.
The new section’s highlights include the 30St Grove, with its secluded seating and communal picnic areas, three linear walks and the 11th Avenue ‘catwalk’ Bridge, as well as lush display gardens on either side of the walkway.
From the bridge, I gaze down on the shimmering silver trains, packed like sardines in the rapidly disappearing rail yards. Parts of these rail yards have already been engulfed beneath a platoon of gleaming skyscrapers in the new, developer-branded, “Hudson Yards” neighbourhood.
It is something of a cruel irony that although the elevated tracks have survived to be recreated as an enchanting post-industrial promenade, the original Pennsylvania Station was not so fortunate. That majestic Beaux Arts masterpiece fell victim to an act of horrific architectural vandalism and was demolished in 1963, to be replaced by the most soulless of subterranean railway terminals.
Soon, the rail yards that still service nearby Penn Station will also be consigned to a subterranean existence, erasing the last visual trace of the once all-powerful Pennsylvania Railroad. The third phase is very much a window into the future rather than a ramble through Manhattan’s industrial past.
The High Line is very much a family attraction and just west of 11th Avenue is a unique design feature for kids, the Pershing Square Beams. The original beams and girders have been stripped back, creating a safe, sunken play area for children. Closer to 34th St, you can spot the tower and pinnacle of the Empire State Building peeping majestically through the towering midtown canopy.
Art is a major feature of the High Line and the new section includes a site-specific sculptural installation by Argentine artist Andrián Villar Rojas. The park is awash with various artworks; sculptures, installations, billboards, including a rather baffling Ed Ruscha mural on the side of one building.
The original elevated railway tracks were built 30 feet above 10th Avenue in 1934 to carry freight to the factories and warehouses of Manhattan’s heavily industrialised West Side. The line finally closed in 1980, then lay derelict for years and seemed destined for the developer’s wrecking ball.
This final phase in the urban jigsaw is the culmination of an ambitious project, than began when the Friends of the High Line was founded by two neighbourhood residents in 1999. Co-founder Joshua David reminds us that the structure was just “one signature away from being torn down but luckily, a federal court order forced then Mayor Giuliani to sign an order protecting it.”
Now, the High Line attracts over 5 million visitors a year and is a rare but stunning example of how vision and imagination can occasionally triumph over urban pragmatism and predatory speculators.
I fell in love with it when visited it soon after the first phase opened in 2009, enjoying leisurely walks and taking the sun on its handsome reclining loungers. I always try to visit on weekdays when there are fewer tourists and locals are preoccupied with earning a New York crust.
Early mornings, the park is at its most serene but for colour and atmosphere the golden hour of the late afternoon is magical. Enjoy a stroll at this time, followed by a cocktail and a bite at one of the many alfresco cafes, whilst marvelling at the ravishing Hudson River sunsets.
There is even more to look forward to next spring, when the Whitney Museum of American Art will relocate from its elegant but staid Upper East Side home to hipster Gansevoort Street, in a brand new Renzo Piano building at the southern entrance to the High Line. It’s all adding up to make one helluva west side story.
For information on events and activities visit www.thehighline.org .
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This article was written by Chris Coplans from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.