In the mid-1800’s, so many accidents occurred between freight trains and street-level traffic on 10th Avenue in Manhattan that it became known as “Death Avenue.” After years of debate, New York state and city governments, along with the New York Railroad, agreed to develop a 13-mile-long elevated railroad. Opening to trains in 1934, the High Line brought tons of produce and manufactured goods to Manhattan.
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By the 1950’s, with the rise of interstate trucking, rail traffic along the High Line had fallen dramatically. In the 1960’s, the Southern section of the High Line was demolished.
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In 1999, Friends of the High Line was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as a public park. In 2002, Friends of the High Line finally won a lawsuit challenging the city’s plans for demolishing the remaining tracks. A year later, a design competition was launched to solicit proposals for reusing the High Line. More than 720 teams from 36 countries entered. The team selected is led by Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, and includes Diller Scofidio + Renfro, as well as noted horticultural designer, Piet Oudolf.
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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presented an exhibition highlighting preliminary designs from Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro in 2005.
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The High Line’s designers sought to retain as much of the original High Line’s gritty urban character as possible. The New York Review of Books recently said the park “celebrates rather than obviates the collision of natural and man-made environments.”
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The open section of the High Line begins near the meeting of Gansevoort and Washington streets. A staircase leads to a central promenade platform, offering views of the plantings. The High Line functions as a living green roof, with multiple layers to provide water flow and hold soil and plants.
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Friends of High Line Park Founder, Joshua David, envisioned an atmosphere “less like a park and more like scruffy wilderness.” A range of native plants, including sumac and hardy urban plants, is used along with scabiosa, a “pincushion flower.” Juneberry shrubs were also in fruit during the spring’s inauguration of the park.
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The High Line Park is now run by the New York City Parks Department. From outsider to a central community platform, the High Line demonstrates how derelict industrial sites can be reimagined. Other cities are also exploring reusing abandoned transportation infrastructure.
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