The High Line, Revisited

The High Line has been open on the West Side of Manhattan for five years now.  From the get-go, the park has had this dichotomy of being both for the people, being free of admission, and for the rich, located in one of the most exclusive zip codes in the country if not the world.  It was beautiful as a space to visit, but to use it as one would traditionally use a park, you’d have a long trip everyday to walk your dog, if you didn’t qualify for a loan for a local $1500/sf apartment in a new state-of-the-art glistening modern condo.

 Twisting, because we can.

Twisting, because we can.

The High Line, at first, was just like all those shiny sleek towers.  The modern granite pavers swooped among the old rails, dotted with precision stainless steel details and crisp ipe wood relief from the stone and metal.  The landscaping was perfectly manicured, and the entire effect seemed an appropriate front yard to striking modern landmarks like the Standard Hotel.

Ironically, the space that inspired the entire project was anything but sleek and shiny.  Lost among the investment was the feeling of an oasis above the city that I imagine once secretly reigned there.

 Gotta love Zaha.

Gotta love Zaha.

What has now begun to happen is remarkable to see.  As the forest grows and the bushes envelope some of the metal sculpture, the feeling of a floating overgrown forgotten oasis has definitely increased.  The fact that we were at the height of the autumn foliage season at magic hour didn’t hurt.  Some areas had even developed a canopy and undercanopy layer, making our urban hike feel more like a walk in the woods upstate.

We found that the most successful moments (our favorite moments) in THIS version of the park are not when it interacts with those snazzy chrome buildings that its initial state inspired both in form and in shiny-ness.  They are when it interacts with the more subtle developments and the well-executed renovated brick warehouses and tenements.  The park feels like a backyard that belongs to these tenants, much more personal, and the bright shiny towers are points of interest in between, which act more like fishbowls for the public to see how the rich and famous live (at least for the park-adjacent units).

Not that the intermittent shiny moments aren’t nice - it’s just that they aren’t true to the place’s nature; and they may not hold up over time.  The High Line remains one of the great public urban spaces of this century.  It has become a living thing, and I’m excited to return often and see how it evolves over the decades.