Over­seas Walk: Walk­ing a New York ex- freight line

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Ju­dith Doyle

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.

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