The High Line

Fifteen cool things you should know.

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  • Rendering design by Fielo Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Courtesy of...

Rendering design by Fielo Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Courtesy of...

The basics: Section one of the High Line opens mid-June and is about a half mile long. There are five entry points, at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th Streets, with elevators at 14th and 16th Streets. For now, the only bathrooms will be at 16th Street, though a Gansevoort pit stop is planned. Capacity limits were yet to be solidified at press time, but given the space constraints, it’s reasonable to expect them. Tentative park hours are 7am--10pm. For more info, visit thehighline.org.

1 It really is happening.
Section one, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, will be unveiled mid-June; the second part extends from 20th to 30th and will be complete in 2010.

2 Not much is left to do.
For section one at least, most of the planting is set, and the benches and pathways are in place. Finishing touches are on their way: last-minute greenery, plumbing for a special water feature (see No. 7) and the installation of wooden planking for a gathering space at 17th Street.

3 What took so long?
Construction started in 2006, and then ran into a problem. Not bureaucracy: lead paint. “The largest, most expensive and most time-consuming part of the construction process was that we had to wrap the entire High Line in a containment unit piece by piece,” says Friends of the High Line communications manager Katie Lorah. “They would sandblast the inside of it to remove all the lead paint, and then repaint the steel on the structure.”

4 It’s wild.
Staten Island’s Greenbelt Native Plant Center is storing local flora as part of the international Millennium Seed Bank Project (which will, we presume, allow us to grow carrots after our own Armageddon, just like the rebels in Terminator Salvation do). The relevant point here is that the GNPC is also guardian of seeds collected from the High Line’s wild overgrowth, and section two will literally regrow the same plants using those seeds.

5 It’s got old stuff.
Many of the 1930s railroad tracks are still in their original locations, integrated into the planting beds. Even cooler? A few of the sundeck’s chaise longues have mini rail wheels that roll on the tracks. “They’ll be so popular we’ll regret not putting a meter on them,” jokes Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

6 The views: awesome.
Friends of the High Line cofounder Joshua David favors the southernmost point: the Gansevoort Overlook, which peers into the heart of the Meatpacking District. “It’s an evocative view of a historic neighborhood,” he says. At 17th Street, the Line crosses over Tenth Avenue, providing a view all the way down to the Statue of Liberty. And at 18th Street, you can eye the Empire State Building rising up behind the ornate London Terrace complex.

7 They want you to take off your shoes.
If you get too hot on the sundeck at 14th Street, you can tiptoe through a sleek water feature. Not your typical fountain, it’s a shallow skim of water that bubbles up over a section of the pathway.

8 It’s arty.
Brooklyn artist Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways is installed in a partially enclosed loading dock in Chelsea Market. He snapped 700 photos of the Hudson River (one every minute for 700 minutes), and crafted a glass pane to match the color of each shot’s center pixel.

9 Don’t bring a bike.
“It’s a strolling, sitting, talking, passive recreation kind of park,” says Benepe, noting that there are no biking or running paths. Over the course of the summer, expect talks with the Line’s designers and kids’ events. Picnics are welcome, and while there won’t be any grills, there will be movable tables and chairs. Vendors will come later.

10 The light is special up there.
Ever notice how lights in this city always blaze down on you from above? Lighting-design firm L’Observatoire International did. That’s why all the illumination here is at waist level or lower and embedded in the side railings. Without overhead glare, you just might be able to see those twinkling things in the sky. “I think it’s going to be one of New York’s most romantic nighttime places, instantly, overnight,” says Benepe. “It’s great in the daytime, particularly good at sunset. But nighttime will be what separates it from other parks; you get views you don’t get from any other place. I think it’ll be a big place for proposals.”

11 Found treasure.
Constructed between 1929 and 1934, the High Line originally carried trains laden with meat, milk and produce down the west side of Manhattan. After it was phased out of use, finally carrying its last train in 1980, it was treated just like any other abandoned structure in the city, trashed with graffiti and garbage. “There were bottles and cans from decades and decades ago,” Lorah says of her early visits to the raw line. “It was like a museum of beer bottles.” But her favorite find was less expected: a school desk, the kind with the desk attached to the chair. “It was sitting at about 18th Street right smack in the middle of the High Line. No one knows how it got there.”

12 There’s a forest.
Dubbed the Gansevoort Woodland, the southern section between Gansevoort and Little West 12th Streets is more heavily planted than the rest of the park. That spot was chosen because of the way the line curves at that point, providing people on the street and up top with a peek at the greenery to come. “We wanted there to be a dramatic presence of foliage in that location because it kid of beckons,” David says. “It sort of pulls you and makes you want to go into that entrance, because you see all of this lush greenery on top of this heavy industrial structure.”

13 It all started with a coincidence.
Friends of the High Line cofounders Joshua David and Robert Hammond met by chance when they happened to sit next to each other at a public hearing about the potential demolition of the High Line in 1999. When they realized no organization existed to save it, they started one.

14 The organizers are hedging their bets.
“We want people to come enjoy it but not have huge expectations because we’re going to be sort of road-testing this park,” says Commissioner Benepe. As he points out, the Parks Department has never dealt with a “park in the sky,” and plans for maintenance and usage will have to adapt depending on how the public uses the park.

15 It’ll be crowded.
At press time, the Parks Department and Friends of the High Line were still working on a crowd-control plan. Limited space up top means limited people. But Benepe expects the crowds to thin after a few months, especially since the High Line doesn’t have bike paths, running lanes or other sports options and the Hudson River Park, right next door, does. However, Lorah points out that the winter is one of the most beautiful times to appreciate the High Line, so be sure to check it out when the temperature drops.


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Images of the city's first elevated park, from the '30s through tomorrow.



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