In New York City: Abandoned elevated rail becomes a new urban park
Two weeks after the opening of the High Line, New York is still reveling in its newest city park. The creation of open space is a rare event in the world’s densest cities, a treasure hunt sometimes known as landscape urbanism. Seoul, Korea recently brought to daylight a forgotten river under the city, opening up a wide boulevard of parks and recreation spaces. Many cities have converted unused belt railways into community gardens or greenways. Now this trend for generating innovative urban public spaces from dilapidated infrastructure has blossomed on the west side of Manhattan between the Chelsea and Meatpacking Districts atop an abandoned elevated railroad.
Ten years after planning began, this sophisticated promenade has been enthusiastically received by New York residents. The design is at the same time completely contextual and otherworldly. Nothing of its kind exists in New York; the perspective puts pedestrians on a pedestal above the streets, where they can view the Hudson River and Manhattan’s newest buildings designed by international star-architects like Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel. The view itself is quite surreal.
The story unfolded like this: landowners wanted the blighted rail line torn down for condo development in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Community members and residents had a vision for the space. Politicians and urban planners were wary until they figured out how to make everyone happy: transfer the ground level development rights above the elevated track and turn it into a public park. The city planning commission was able to reallocate buildable land rights above the High Line, so many of the new projects flanking the park also are cantilevered over it, such as the Standard Hotel designed by Polshek Partnership Architects. Most of the property owners adjacent to the rail wanted to build a direct access point from the park, but the city restricted access to a limited number of developments, negotiating in exchange for public restrooms or handicap-accessible elevators.
Beyond the simple architecture that recalls wooden railway slats and tracks, the vegetative landscaping is fantastic. The design team (Diller, Scofidio and Renfro with James Corner of Field Operations) called for seeds to be collected from the flora growing on the vacant High Line prior to its redevelopment. They propagated the plants and then incorporated them into the new landscaping. Besides their scruffy native beauty, many of the plants have berries and showy flowers, offering significant wildlife value. Park-goers might even catch a glimpse of the rare exotic sewer rat or Manhattan pigeon. A slideshow of more photos can be found here: [flickr album=72157622614626424 num=20 size=Square]