Location and use
The High Line is an aerial urban park in the Meatpacking and Chelsea districts of New York, making use of a disused part of the Central Railroad. Repurposing began in 2006 with the first part of the 1.5 mile walkway opening in 2009. Owned by the City of New York, it is maintained and run by Friends of the High Line.
We visited in February 2016, following a record low Valentines Day weekend when temperatures fell to -20°C.
The walkway has plenty of access points, so as well as being a destination in its own right the High Line allows people to enjoy walking a few blocks along the walkway as part of their daily routine instead of walking the busy streets below. Despite it being well below freezing and rain about the day we visited there were plenty of joggers and locals as well as sodden tourists about.
The design of the park utilises the linear nature of the disused railway line, with plenty of strong straight lines cutting through the design and demarcating areas. Public and planting areas are determined by a series of grids laid parallel to the different sections of the railway as is cuts through Manhattan.
The balance of mass and void on the walkway itself is perhaps more successful in summer months when grasses and perennials create large blocks of vegetation. In the winter the balance is different with less mass, but this feeling of greater space on the High Line still works as the winter skies can make the surrounding buildings even more imposing.
Wood, iron and concrete, the traditional materials of the railway, are used successfully in the park, with an undulating rhythm reminiscent of the railway that used to run along the same path. There is a really good flow, with seating integrating into the walkways rather than being imposed on it, and walkways disappearing slowly into planting areas to soften the demarcation.
Railway tracks area a recurring material, but are integrated into the design rather than being a pastiche or too thematic. I particularly liked the row of wooden sun loungers that run on rails and could be pushed together or apart.
The High Line’s planting is inspired by self-seeded pioneer plants that grew on the elevated tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running.
Piet Oudolf helped select perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that have been chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and colour variation, with a focus on native species.
There are almost five hundred different varieties of plants on the High Line, but many are perennials that weren’t making themselves known in February. That said, despite the harsh New York winter there was still a visible structure to the planting, with small shrubs and trees giving year round texture and grasses still making their presence felt.
A real February highlight was the Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ with its coppery-orange flowers giving great colour through the late winter.
It is a shame that there is need to rope off the planting from the walkways, as it really impacted on the natural flow between users and the plants, as well as reducing the effect of how the shape and structure of the sleepers and other hard landscaping details are intended to soften that gap as well.
We enjoyed the High Line, even in the depths of winter, and would recommend a visit to anyone in New York.