Amidst much anticipated celebration, the High Line on the west side of Manhattan has finally opened. A formerly-abandoned 1930s elevated rail structure, the High Line has been transformed over the past three years into a landscaped pedestrian pathway by James Corner Field Operations along with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Yesterday morning, Mayor Bloomberg trumpeted the kickoff with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first segment of the park, which extends north to West 20th street. The entire site runs 1.5 miles long from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street along the Hudson River, and sits about 30 feet above the street. Once the three-phase project is complete (phase two is currently scheduled for 2010), pedestrians will be able to walk 22 blocks through the city without ever encountering vehicular traffic.
This "park in the sky" was the result of a decade of lobbying, planning, and red-tape-plowing by the Friends of the High Line, a non-profit group dedicated to reclaiming the steel freight rail line, which had been slated for demolition in the 1980s. Inspired by other soaring ribbons of greenery such as the Parisian Promenade Plantée, the Friends of the High Line launched an open competition in 2003, and construction began in 2006.
Some highlights include a plethora of concrete-based 'peel-up' benches made from FSC-certified Ipe wood (a sustainable Brazilian hardwood), over 100 plant species curated by Dutch planting designer Piet Oudolf (inspired by all that wild grassy urban meadow-esque flora that had sprung up around the abandoned steel pieces), a carved-out, sunken mini-ampitheater above Tenth Avenue, and of course, sweeping views of the city skyline and Hudson River.
The opening of the High Line also emphasizes a revitalization of the surrounding Meatpacking/Chelsea neighborhood. Its peers include a new branch of the Whitney Museum designed by Renzo Piano, a rather experimental Neil Denari apartment tower, and other nearby projects by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and Robert A.M. Stern.
Along with Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC Open Space initiatives, the soon-to-be pedestrianization of Times Square, and the no-car plans for other swathes along Broadway, the High Line definitely heralds another step forward, championing people space far above automobile space (literally). The future of New York City walkers seems more and more promising, as the largest American metropolis is finally starting to take human scale seriously.