New York City has been synonymous with the High Line Park since I first read about its existence in 2012. Taking an out-of-use freight line track and redesigning it into a multi-use public space struck me as clever, resourceful, and ingenious. In 2015, when the JJ family visited New York City, we spent a couple of hours at this park. It was still in progress then, but we enjoyed the concept.
A couple of months ago, I was in New York and had some time to explore on my own. Now that the High Line was complete and fully open, I wanted to revisit the park. Missy JJ spent a summer in NYC last year and thoroughly enjoyed her weekend walks here. It was a beautiful morning, with blue skies and golden sun, and the perfect way to enjoy a winter morning in the Big Apple. My travel partners were eager to explore the High Line with me.
The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. According to the history on its website, the original freight lines in this part of the town ran in the middle of the streets, causing multiple accidents and fatalities. The problem improved by adding men on horseback carrying red flags and warning pedestrians about approaching trains. But eventually, the idea to elevate the train tracks gained ground. In 1933, the first such freight train became operational. Over the next 30 years, it served the Meatpacking District carrying tons of meat, dairy, and produce.
As the trucking industry took over, the need for these trains reduced and eventually ground to a complete stop in the 1980s. In disuse and denounced as an eye sore, there were many calls to demolish the tracks. On the southernmost side, a section of the line had already been demolished in the 1960s. It was but a matter of time before the rest were to follow.
In 1983, local residents explored the idea of preserving the structure and converting it for alternate use. At this time, Congress passed the Trail System Act making it easier to convert old rail lines into recreational areas. As the years progressed and debates and discussions ensued, Nature did what she does best: allow plants to grow in wild abandon. In 1999, Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit conservancy, was formed to advocate for maintaining the High Line and repurposing it for public use. In 2003, they hosted an “ideas competition.” Over the next couple of years, the area of the High Line was rezoned as a public park.
A team of architects and designers was chosen, and the project began in 2006, with the first portion completed in 2009. Since then, High Line Park has continued expanding to its 1.45-mile-long journey. In addition to functioning as a public green space, it boasts commissioned art pieces. Many public programs, such as stargazing, TaiChi, fitness classes, and community engagement projects and performances, occur here regularly.
To this day, the High Line admission remains free. The park is open from 7 am to 10 pm most of the year. Public docent-led tours (three times a week) and some private tours are available.
On the day we visited, there were no public tours. We started at the Gansevoort Street entrance, walking up the stairs to join the elevated tracks. The balcony here marks the southern end of the demolished trail line. Few people were strolling along. The rail tracks were embedded in the walkway, with the vegetation on both sides stripped bare during winter. We walked further to find pieces of artwork, including the “Women and Children”, a group of bronze sculptures by Nina Beier. The figures have drilled holes for eyes through which water streams and had turned to ice!
Further down, we walked past the 14th Street passage, where films are shown in summer. The Overlook at 10th Street was quite remarkable. This amphitheater-style seating is fully wheelchair accessible and is perfect for people-watching. It hosts performances during warmer months. We stood here for a few minutes taking in the steady flow of traffic below us.
Next up were the 22nd Street seating steps made of reclaimed wood. The location was perfect for stopping and sunning ourselves in the early morning light. Across from the steps was a mural, “NYC Love” by Nina Chanel Abney, invoking NYC’s iconic sights, sounds, and smells. Just past this, we stopped to watch Windy, a tornado-inspired sculpture of black foam by Meriem Bennani. At the 26th Street viewing area, we had to walk around the filming crew of some well-known food critic. Since the place was crowded, we didn’t stop to visit this deck.
Near here, we also peeked into the bronze binocular art called Observer, Observed by Julia Phillips. We took turns looking through the binoculars, only to have a nearby LED screen transmit images of our eyes captured on screen. Were we the observer or the observed, or in this case, both?
At 30th, the path suddenly turns sharply to the left, and the trail runs east-west. This area was wider than the rest of the track. The Freedom’s Stand artwork sits here, showcasing headlines from various Black Newspapers. We walked to the end to get a view of the Hudson River. On the way back, we entered the Hudson Yards area and were immediately captured by the unique Vessel.
The Vessel is a spiral staircase with 154 flights of stairs and 80 landings, all interconnected and offering a different view of the City. I read that the Indian step wells inspired the concept. At the time of our visit, only ground-level access was allowed and was free, and we took advantage of it to exclaim over such a unique piece of architecture. Then we walked outside and enjoyed a frontal view of the structure before walking down 34th Street and enjoying some murals on the way.
Once back on the High Line, we noticed the crowd had considerably thickened. We heard people conversing in several languages, many unknown to us. People of all ages were on that track that morning, paying tribute to the brilliant idea of repurposing a beloved structure and allowing Nature to lend a hand.
Of course, since it was winter, the trees were bare and the grass brown and dry. But one look at the photos on the website shows what brilliance of color and profusion lay hibernating beneath. I am sure the wildflowers in many colors and the verdant green of trees and bushes will add an aura of magic to this beautiful place.The High Line has elevator access at four locations and stair access at various points. Pets are not allowed on the trail. Although owned by the City of New York, the park is run on the funds raised by the Friends of the High Line. The organization is also responsible for maintaining and operating the High Line.
Walking the High Line is not about the distance traversed but rather enjoying the arduous journey the freight line tracks have undertaken. Where they have been and where they are ready to go. The question is: are we?