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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2004 Issue

Taking the High Road
New York City's defunct High Line rail trestle is ready to be reinvented.

By Alex Ulam

Taking the High Road Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Olafur Eliasson, Piet Oudolf, and Buro Happold

Two stories above New York City's congested streets lies an urban nature path that has no travelers. Known as the High Line, this derelict, elevated freight rail trestle snakes through a grid of city streets, 22 blocks long, in a redeveloping industrial area on Manhattan's West Side. Its route crosses a wide avenue, and in many places it disappears from pedestrian view, running through old industrial warehouses and narrow canyons of apartment buildings. Seen from street level, the High Line is an immense metal relic blackened with decades of soot, and it looms 30 feet high in places. But up on top, away from the bustle of the streets, nature is busy colonizing the rusted tracks and rotting railroad ties. You feel as though you are trespassing in a secret garden, and you are—unless you've been invited up for a special tour by officials from CSX, the railroad that owns the easement. There are patches of meadow grasses, wildflowers, thickets of saplings, and even a pear tree. If you stroll along the decrepit rail bed, you are accorded spectacular views of the Hudson River only a few blocks away across a busy highway, where the new Hudson River Park is being developed along the riverbank.

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