The success of the High Line bodes well for Seattle's waterfront, which is also being designed by James Corner Field Operations.
AMBER FOXTAIL lilies were holding their torch-like heads high above the riot of greenery along the High Line when I visited Manhattan’s garden-in-the-sky this past summer. Starry globes of Allium christophii had faded to buff, magnolias, astilbe and viburnum were flowering, and the whole effect was powerfully, deliciously horticultural.
Ever since the first section opened in 2009, I’ve been keenly anticipating a chance to walk the High Line myself. I wasn’t disappointed. This stroll garden that winds its way along an elevated 1930s freight line has softened and humanized one of the most intensely urban environments on Earth. The city is both immediate and removed; you feel like you’re floating up in the greenery with the birds.
I started and ended every day I was in New York walking the High Line end-to-end. Early in the day it’s mostly runners up there, or New Yorkers walking to work above street-level clamor. In the evening, when it’s gently, diffusely lit, people just hang out, chatting, picnicking, canoodling and strolling.
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So why has this public park inspired books, unprecedented popularity and pilgrimages such as mine? The idea that a group called “Friends of the High Line” was able to transform a condemned freight line is impressive. It’s encouraging that the High Line has been taken over by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, although it’s still largely funded by the friends group. With the third and last component still to open, the High Line is already said to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York.
Then there are the richly planted gardens — real, full-bodied gardens without a whiff of public landscape about them. Think what that means to all those New Yorkers living in little apartments! I love the sleek modernism of it all, how perfectly it’s maintained, and the fresh views of the city it’s opened up. (Yes, you can peek into people’s windows as well as out to the Hudson River.)
All along the High Line’s 1.45-mile length, public art is flourishing, buildings have been cleaned up and new ones are under construction. At West 12th Street you can look through a window to see the new Whitney Museum rising.
Art on and near the High Line is subtle and bold, from recorded words softly emanating from who-knows-where to giant wall murals and pictures projected on buildings after dark. There are sundecks with chaises, quiet alcoves with high-backed benches for privacy, water features, screens laced with honeysuckle and clematis. An amphitheater, too.
All of which bodes well for Seattle’s waterfront. It’s also being designed by James Corner Field Operations. Both projects, despite obvious dissimilarities, are huge in scale, and created to draw in locals as well as tourists. Both need to move people along while encouraging them to linger and enjoy.
I hope our project offers even a fraction of the horticultural interest that makes the High Line such a compelling place.
Read all about it in “High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky” by Joshua David and Robert Hammond (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.