Overseas Walk: Walking a New York ex- freight line
New York's latest walkway — the 1.6km-long High Line — was once an elevated railway line for freight. But now, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, you can enjoy this aerial ribbon park high above the west side of Manhattan.
The southernmost section of High Line was opened in 2009 after several years construction work by the city council. Two years later the second section was opened and the third — which will be kept closer to its original purpose — is scheduled for 2014.
I climbed up the steps from 30th Street at the point where the final section, which is still being worked on, meets the existing walkway. Here there are naturalised plantings of daisies and greenery. Most of the plantings on the walkway are similarly tough — rugged meadow plants such as clump-forming grasses, Liatris (North American perennials), daisy variations and Sumac and Smokebush shrubs.
Further on I spoke to one of the many volunteers who maintain and operate the park. Their efforts saved the elevated structure from demolition in the first place. He was busy weeding beside one of the wooden benches made in ipê (Brazilian Walnut) — one of several that are placed along the walkway.
Fulltime gardeners also work here, employed by Friends of the High Line. Friends also organise talks, performances, family activities, video and film projections here from time to time.
The inspiration for New York's High Line came from Paris where Promenade Plantée is built on elevated railway infrastructure that had been disused for many years. Promenade Plantée runs for 4.7kms from the Place de la Bastille to Bois de Vincennes.
New York's High Line is a delight to walk. The tranquillity of the walkway — such a change from crowded city streets — is a tonic and I revel in this unique slant on Manhattan which gives new and unexpected views of the city and glimpses of the Hudson River in between tall buildings.
Sometimes office buildings and warehouses jut out over the walkway. Some warehouse walls have jasmine climbing up them. In other areas Silver Birches make a quivering green curtain against the buildings and occasionally a sculpture, commissioned by Friends of the High Line, is positioned in a niche. Occasionally you walk under an arm of a building. One has a café and I pause for a cappuccino.
Guided tours are offered over the section still being worked on and tour groups step over track ballast and railroad ties, past discarded spikes and old steel plates. Golden rod, Queen Anne's Lace other self-seeded plants will be allowed to grow in this section which will remain, after considerable strengthening, much as it was when in industrial use.
New York has always treasured its parks and the wonderful area of Central Park is certainly the lungs of the city, including the Jackie Onassis reservoir which commemorates her work at saving this area from development.
It's intriguing to see New Yorkers adding to their open spaces in as imaginative a way as the High Line.