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Walking New York's High Line
I’ve always had a thing for gardens that bloom in unexpected places. Growing up in an apartment in the Bronx, I watched my green-thumb dad transform our ugly urban windows into welcoming little landscapes--painting the wrought iron window guards white to resemble picket fences and placing flower boxes with geraniums on every sill.
All it took was a little vision and a few plants to turn a bleak backdrop into a glorious green space. It’s the same principle that New York City’s High Line park (www.thehighline.org) was designed on, and why it’s become one of my favorite urban retreats.
Open since 2009, the High Line park is built on an abandoned old elevated railway, 30 feet above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Freight trains ran here from 1934 to 1980, but in the years after the High Line railway closed, the tracks and the black steel structure that supported them were considered an eyesore and slated for demolition.
However in 1999, neighborhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed “Friends of the High Line,” a community organization devoted to preserving and transforming the historic railway into a space that the public could enjoy. It took a decade to make it happen, but today the High Line has become one of New York’s great green treasures.
Wildflowers and Killer Views
Before its makeover, the High Line was overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Now there’s a flat path for strolling, flanked by grasses, shrubs, trees and perennials--many of them native to New York. Instead of removing the tracks completely, landscape architects selectively worked them back into the park’s design, and replanted some of the very same wildflowers that grew so rampantly before. The result is a park that looks so natural and organic, you’ll find it hard to believe that it hasn’t been here all along.
The High Line runs mostly along Tenth Avenue, from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through Chelsea to W. 30th Street. (It will eventually continue on to W. 34th Street, once expansion plans are completed.) You access it by staircases and elevators located sporadically along the way.
One of the things I love best about the High Line is how it puts you above the city’s traffic and hustle bustle, while still keeping you very connected to the neighborhoods it weaves through. And then, of course, there are the views. The southern portion looks out over the Hudson River, at one point offering a cool glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. As you walk along, you’ll pass awesome architecture--like the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building, and the Chrysler and Empire State Building in the distance. The narrow northern part snakes between apartments (see if you can spot the whimsical portraits of people waving in some of the windows).
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
There are entrances to the High Line every few blocks, but I prefer starting at the beginning at the Gansevoort Stair and walking north. (If you follow my lead, just be sure to stop at the Tenth Avenue Square viewing stand at W. 17th Street, where I want you to turn around to face south so you don’t miss the awesome view of the Statue of Liberty.) If your feet are up to the challenge, I suggest walking all the way to the end of the High Line on W. 30th Street, then doubling back and exiting around W. 23rd Street, or continuing on downtown to where you started. (It’s a good entrée to exploring the West Village, just a few blocks away from the Gansevoort Stair). There are benches and grandstands for resting all along the High Line.
Take your time, and notice how the High Line changes as you stroll. It was built in 2 sections (the first, from Gansevoort to W. 20th Street; the second from W. 20th to W. 30th), and each has a distinct vibe. The blooms will vary too, according to season. I’ve walked the High Line in spring, summer, fall and winter; by day and in the evening light. And every time, the experience feels fresh and new.
My favorite High Line spots
- The Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck (between W. 14th & W. 15th Streets): A gift from IAC chairman Barry Diller and his wife designer Diane von Furstenberg, who are big supporters of the High Line, this relaxing area has wooden lounge chairs and a soothing waterscape built into the sidewalk. It’s a great place to hang at sunset!
- The Tenth Avenue Square (at W. 17th Street): Stand here and face south to spot the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
- Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat) Sculpture (between W. 20th & W. 21st Streets): More commonly referred to as the “bird condos” by fans, this striking steel and wood art installation by Sarah Sze provides haven for birds, ladybugs and butterflies.
- 23rd Street Lawn & Seating Steps (between W. 22nd & W. 23rd Streets): I love how the steps blend in with the brick wall and its vintage painted advertisement. And I could sit on this lawn for hours! This is my go-to meeting place for catching up with friends in warm weather.
- The Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover (between W. 25th and W. 26th Streets): Here, the pathway narrows and raises up another 8 feet, lifting you above the vegetation and transporting you through a canopy of sumac and magnolia trees. In the summer, it feels like you’re walking through a forest.