Visiting NYC Series #2: Spotlight On The High Line…A Green Oasis In The Sky

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The Highline, NYC

Since the High Line Park opened in 2009, I have been enamored with its development over the last 14 years, its significance to the city and how we as a society can reinvent historic abandoned structures to conform to a new future. This is known as “creative place making” and NYC has many exemplary models of how it does this. For me, the High Line, (a green oasis in the sky surrounded by skyscrapers), remains an exceptional prototype of what is possible. Here is a bit of my perspective on why a visit to this place is good for both your imagination and soul…

But First a Bit of History ….

As is the case with many abandoned structures, the elevated railroad line, after having played a major role in serving the city’s industrial era was destined to be demolished. Trucks slowly became a better transport option along with the loss of the city’s industries to other less expensive regions within the US.

By the 1970s, parts of the rail line were already being demolished and by the 1980s it was shut down, becoming an eyesore. After more than a decade of abandonment, the city was pushing for it to be destroyed at the same time that community residents saw the potential for a public park. A nonprofit (Friends of the High Line) was formed to both advocate and repurpose the rail line that already was a thriving home for many native plants, birds and critters.

By 2006, City Council approved a special zoning district that led to its redevelopment opening its doors to its first phase in 2009 and since then it has added what is known as the Spur and, more recently, the opening of the Moynihan Connector.

With these additions, the High Line is exactly 1.45 miles long, showcasing over 500 native plants offering a wide range of intergenerational community programming reflective of the city’s demographics. The High Line is the first public park on an elevated rail line in the US. It has been an economic boom for both the Chelsea /Meatpacking district and Hudson Yards (the city’s newest neighborhood and commercial/art center).

So What About This “Creative Place-Making” Thing you Mentioned Earlier?

The main objective of creative place-making is to “create” places of destination that increase the vibrancy and revitalization of communities, mostly through art, cultural events and the development of unique spaces. They foster both a sense of community but also a place for both residents and commerce to thrive.

These projects many times are led by either a community group, the city, or a developer. In many communities worldwide, they start with street murals and pop up events that later lead to a redevelopment strategy that spikes the use of underappreciated properties.

Unfortunately, creative place-making has an ugly side as it has become a popular tool that leads to gentrification. It has displaced longtime residents and businesses changing the historic fabric of a community. The rising costs of real estate lead to evictions and affordable housing shortages. It has the greatest negative impact on Black and Latinx neighborhoods. In the case of the High-Line, it is becoming very expensive for long-time residents in Chelsea to remain in their rental apartments, pricing them out. In fact, the High Line has been viewed by many experts as the “major catalyst for the rapid gentrification of midtown New York”.

As a community development practitioner, I have always been a bit hesitant when promoting this concept, as it is essential for communities in need of a revitalization strategy. Organizing residents to play a leadership role is critical to mitigating some of the displacement. A community-based organization’s ability to purchase and control land is another way to have teeth in reducing gentrification.

What I Love About the High Line?

Since it opened, I don’t think there has been a year that I have not walked the High Line. I was first introduced to the High Line as part of a photography class in the fall of 2009. The instructor asked the class to meet her on 23rd and 10th Ave. I stood there waiting for her, wandering why she picked this location as the word High Line did not mean anything to me. I never thought of looking up. When she got there, we hopped on to what was a shining new elevator. Once the doors opened, I was stunned to see the completion of what was the first phase. At the time, most of the vegetation was in its early infancy. Over the years, it has grown abundantly, creating a park three stories high with over 500 native plants and trees that provide a range of flowers and shaded areas.

During my 6 weeks hiatus in Chelsea, I walked the High Line mostly every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening before the 10 pm closing. Here is what it has taught me:

1. Walking early in the morning is the best time as it is less crowded and you can walk at a faster pace. It is where you will find more opportunities to take photos and to best catch New Yorkers doing their thing. I have witnessed a marriage proposal, a photographic shoot and a newscast filming since I’ve been here (see photos).

2. Be mindful during the summer as it gets very packed, especially midday, and it’s less fun walking at a snail’s pace. The evening walks are another option as they come with a breeze and are less crowded

3. The park represents an example of sustainability…… the readapting of an old abandoned structure into an environmentally friendly urban landscape. It teaches us how we can imagine and make the impossible become possible.

4. Kudos to the designers for keeping as much of the old rail line tracks as part of the landscape. I love the design of the benches and walkways to resemble characteristics of railroad life. There is even a water area for children to play and wet their feet. There are plenty of places to sit, enjoy a meal or take a nap. It is also a great place to watch people from all over the world walk the High Line.

5. The Gardens — The variety and flourishing of native plants and trees is outstanding, creating an ecosystem for pollinators. Early in the mornings, the staff is pruning and watering the plants. Many times I have stopped to talk and learn from them. The staff provides weekly hourly sessions for those who would like to know more about these gardens. There are also markers to continuously educate us on various species, including a guidebook for those who may like to try gardening back home. I love to run my hand through the variety of plants and flowers as I walk, hoping I don’t get bitten by an insect whose habitat I am disturbing.

5. Public Art — The park showcases numerous art works commissioned annually, attracting artists from every continent. The art pieces reflect what is happening in today’s society. Some are interactive as well as provocative. The Spur is the location for one of its largest sculptures that can be seen miles from the street which currently had over 80 submissions. If you would like to see what the finalist list looks like for the next two installations, click on this link.

6. The Ends of the Walkway — At either end of the High Line, you will experience two possibilities: the center of the Chelsea art and restaurant district next to the Whitney Museum, or the Hudson Yards entertainment and shopping center. You can’t go wrong with either one.

7. A Pitch … the park is a partnership between the City and the Friends of the High Line who operate and maintain it. If you are like me, who visits this place occasionally or plan to, please consider a donation of any amount to ensure its programming and landscaping remains free to the public. Click here if you have been to the park and forgot to donate.

Final Note:

At the High Line, it is probably fair to say there must be several million photos taken annually by every type of camera. The opportunities for photo-taking are endless during any time of the day. The views are just captivating from any location, whether it’s the industrial buildings and shining skyscrapers surrounding the rail line, the views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey skyline or the actual walkways of the park and the people walking on them. Choosing what photos to include in this story was a bit too much. My photos are a compilation of all the above and all that I love about the High Line that makes this public park so inspiring to me. I plan to be back next year, hopefully in October to experience the season’s changing colors. Please click here to access photos. Remember to click the center of the photos for a full view.

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14 street, art, Chelsea, chelsea marketplace, creative place-making, elevated rail line, environmentally friendly, gentrification, Google headquarters, Hudson River, Hudson Yards, lgbtq, little island, New Jersey skyline, New Yorkers, NYC, nyc architecture, nyc neighborhoods, NYC skyscrapers, old abandoned structure, park, public park, readaptive, sustainability, The gardens, the HighLine, the Spur, urban landscape, WhitneyMuseum

AUGUST 29, 2023

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Grizel Ubarry, Limitedlimitlessliving.com

My blog seeks to inspire its readers through stories of travel, art, and personal growth with the goal of reinventing oneself and becoming a global citizen.