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The HighLine is a mile-and-a-half-long project that reclaims an old, elevated rail line into a 1.45-mile urban pedestrian park on Manhattan’s West Side, visited annually by millions of people. The HighLine was built in New York City in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project that lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. It fell into disuse and no trains have run on the High Line since 1980 – but HighLine was built to hold two loaded freight trains and is still in good shape. So, in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition, Friends of the High Line (FHL), a community-based non-profit group, organized to save the line and turn it into a useful thoroughfare for foot traffic. A 2002 study found that the HighLine Park project was economically feasible because new tax revenues created by the public space would be greater than the costs of construction. An environmental survey found that removal of everything on the High Line down to the steel and concrete structure was necessary to begin reclamation into a park. Therefore, the structure has been fully rehabilitated, including concrete repair, repainting, and drainage improvements in three phases: the first phase removed all existing surface material on the structure, including gravel ballast, soil, debris and a layer of concrete, down to the steel and concrete structure. After renovations, new drainage and waterproofing was installed, and all steel surfaces of the HighLine structure were sandblasted to remove the original lead paint. The final phase in the HighLine's transition to a public park was the construction of park landscaping. Today, the entire HighLine is fully wheelchair accessible, and can be accessed at several bus and subway stops via stairs, elevators and ramps, and there are bike racks at eight of the street intersections. The park is open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily, and to protect the growing environments, no dogs are allowed. (Scroll down for additional resources)
The FHL conservancy works with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, FHL works to raise the private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the HighLine at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure. FHL works in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park. Millions of people visit the park each year, making the HighLine the most visited park per acre in NYC. In 2011, the HighLine welcomed more than 3.7 million visitors – that’s almost double 2010. According to recent visitor surveys, nearly 50 percent of the HighLine’s visitors are New Yorkers, while the remaining half is split between American and foreign visitors. When HighLine was a freight rail line in operation from 1934 to 1980, it carried meat to the meatpacking district, agricultural goods to the factories and warehouses of the industrial West Side, and mail to the Post Office.
Other similar projects are either installed or in the works in Paris, France, Rotterdam, Netherlands, St, Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Jersey City.
Travel + Leisure magazine named HighLine as one of the world’s most popular landmarks in January 2012:
Sustainable Operations on the Highline Park
The HighLine's landscape uses the same technology as a green roof, and has the same environmental benefits: a reduction of storm-water runoff by up to 80 percent; a mediation of the "heat island" effect created by dark, hard city surfaces; and plantings that create shade, oxygen, and habitat for insects and birds.
The HighLine's "living roof" system, set atop the waterproofed concrete of the structure itself, is made of several layers:
• A perforated black plastic "egg-crate" drainage panel to provide water retention, drainage, and aeration to the soil
• A layer of crushed pea-gravel to act as a buffer, regulating the speed at which water drains
• Woven filter fabric to keeps soil particles from clogging the drains
• A layer of coarser, clay-based subsoil
• A layer of finer, more nutrient-rich topsoil
• A top layer of gravel mulch to aid in water retention and prevent soil erosion due to wind
Drainage: The HighLine's pathway system was designed to reduce storm water runoff and to reduce the amount of water brought in for the plants. The paths are made of open-jointed concrete planks allowing rain water to drain between planks and into adjacent planting beds. Strategic location of the drains at low points in the planting beds maximizes water flow through the beds, reducing the amount of runoff.
Materials: All materials brought in for the HighLine landscape—the concrete in the planks, steel, wood, and other materials were selected based on long-term life-cycle costs to reduce the need to replace and dispose of materials. The wood used on the High Line is an FSC-certified ipe hardwood, sustainably harvested from a managed forest, selected for its durability and reputed life-span of up to 100 years.
Lighting: The HighLine's innovative lighting system uses energy-efficient LED lights to safely illuminate the pathways and plantings without causing overhead glare or wasting energy.
Water Feature: The water feature on the HighLine's Sundeck uses a closed-circulation system, which reduces the amount of water used in the feature.
GREENING THE HIGHLINE
Plant Selection and Sustainability
The HighLine's unique landscape was created in partnership with Netherlands-based planting designer Piet Oudolf. For inspiration, Oudolf looked to the existing landscape that grew on the High Line after the trains stopped running. The plant selection focuses on native, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance species, cutting down on the resources that go into the landscape.
Site-Specific Landscape: Varied conditions of light, shade, exposure, wind, and soil depth on the HighLine in its out-of-use state led to an incredibly complex variety of growing conditions, or "micro-climates". The original, self-seeded landscape reflected this variation – where the HighLine was narrow and sheltered by adjacent buildings, water was retained, soil was deeper, and vegetation was thicker, including several groves of tall shrubs and trees. Where the HighLine was exposed to winds off the Hudson, the landscape was dominated by several varieties of tough, drought-resistant grasses and wildflowers.
The current park landscape was created to reflect the original micro-climates on the HighLine. By basing the planting design on naturally-created plant communities, we create a well-adapted, site-specific landscape, cutting down on water and other resources needed to maintain it.
Local Sourcing: Most of the HighLine’s plants are native species, and many were produced by local growers. Locally-grown plants are better adapted to grow successfully in our climate, reducing the amount of plant failure and replacement costs. The HighLine’s ecosystem provides food and shelter for a variety of wildlife species including native pollinators. Whenever possible, we source materials within a 100-mile radius, including some plants from the New York City Parks Department’s Greenbelt Native Plant Center.
A COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE OPERATIONS
Equally important to the HighLine’s design is the way in which it is maintained and operated on an ongoing basis. In all of its operations, there is a focus on sustainability with the same level of care that went into the park's design.
Watering: In addition to rainwater runoff , supplementary watering is provided as needed. Though drip irrigation is used on specific sites on the HighLine (largely where young groves of trees require a more consistent water source in the summer), the landscape relies for the most part on hand-watering. This way, the park’s gardeners are able to tailor the amount of water based on the needs of individual species and weather conditions, and conserve water. Many of the plants are drought-tolerant and once established will only need supplemental watering in the cases of drought.
Composting: The park is in the process of establishing on-site composting facilities so that garden waste can be recycled on-site into compost. The park is exploring the possibility of partnering with local businesses to compost their food waste to reduce the amount of compostable material entering the waste stream.
Pesticides: The HighLine does not use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Through sound horticultural practices and using well-adapted plants, the need for using pesticides and chemical fertilizers is reduced. An Integrated Pest Management program is in planning stages to sustainably address any issues dealing with potential pests and diseases. The compost produced on-site will provide the nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth; healthy plants are found to be much more resistant to pest and diseases than plants that are ill-adapted or stressed.
Solvents, Cleaners, and Other Chemicals: The HighLine promotes environmentally-sound purchasing through the use of Green Seal-certified cleaning solutions and post-consumer paper products for our recurring maintenance needs.
Snow Removal: On the HighLine, operations have reduced the dependence on the use of rock salt or chemicals to melt snow and ice by relying on manual methods of snow and ice removal. Snow is typically removed with a power broom wherever possible, and hand-shoveling when necessary. If needed, an eco-friendly ice melting product is applied that is safe for the plants and environment.
THE HIGHLINE PARK NEIGHBORHOODS
The High Line runs through three of Manhattan's most dynamic neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton. When the High Line was built in the 1930s, these neighborhoods were dominated by industrial and transportation uses. Now many of the warehouses and factories have been converted to art galleries, design studios, retailers, restaurants, museums, and residences.
The Meatpacking District
Much of the first section of the High Line is located in the Meatpacking District. Around 1900, the district was home to more than 250 slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. Before the High Line was built, trains on street level, as well as barges and ships from the Hudson River, brought goods to the district for processing. When the High Line was built, it carried freight trains full of meat and other goods directly to the upper floors of these meatpacking plants and factories.
In recent decades, as industrial uses have declined in New York City, the Meatpacking District has seen a resurgence of other uses. Its historic cobblestone streets and low-lying industrial buildings are now home to many restaurants, nightclubs, design and photography studios, and fashion boutiques.
To the north of the Meatpacking District is the neighborhood of West Chelsea, where the majority of the High Line is located. West Chelsea shares the industrial past of the Meatpacking District, with large factories and warehouses lining its streets and avenues. West Chelsea is now home to the world’s largest concentration of art galleries.
In 2005, much of West Chelsea was rezoned by the Department of City Planning, to allow for the High Line's reuse, to encourage the continued use of former industrial spaces as art galleries, and to encourage economic growth through residential development along Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.
Clinton / Hell's Kitchen
The High Line’s northernmost section runs through the southern section of the Clinton / Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Much of this neighborhood was part of the 2005 Hudson Yards Rezoning, which was meant to encourage large-scale development and the improvement of transportation infrastructure. In the next decade or so, this neighborhood will likely undergo significant changes to its built environment.
West Side Rail Yards
North of 30th Street, the High Line runs around the perimeter of the West Side Rail Yards, located between Tenth and Twelfth Avenues and 30th and 33rd Streets. This section of the High Line is not yet owned by the City (as of May 2012). Its future depends on a planning process now underway between the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the State agency that owns the site; the Related Companies, the developer leasing the site for a large-scale development; and the City. Throughout the planning process, Friends of the High Line is working with these parties, as well as with many community groups and elected officials, to ensure that the entire historic High Line is preserved at the West Side rail yards.
History of The HighLine Elevated Railway
The HighLine was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980.
In 1847, the City of New York authorized street-level railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side. However, between 1851 and 1929, so many accidents occurred between freight trains and street-level traffic that 10th Avenue became known as Death Avenue. For safety, men on horses, called the West Side Cowboys, rode in front of trains waving red flags.
In 1929, after years of public debate about the hazard, the City and State of New York and the New York Central Railroad agreed on the West Side Improvement Project, which included the HighLine. The entire project was 13 miles long, eliminated 105 street-level railroad crossings, and added 32 acres to Riverside Park. It cost more than $150 million in 1930 dollars—more than $2 billion today.
By 1934, the HighLine was opened to trains. It ran from 34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It was designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, to avoid creating the negative conditions associated with elevated subways. It connected directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll right inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing street-level traffic.
During the 1950s, the growth of interstate trucking led to a steep drop in rail traffic – both nationally and on the HighLine. As a result, the southernmost section of the HighLine was demolished in the 1960s.
By 1980, The HighLine had seen its last train, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.
In the mid-1980s, a group of property owners lobbied for demolition of the entire structure. Some members of the lobbying group owned land under the High Line that was purchased at prices reflecting the HighLine's easement. Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenges demolition efforts in court and tries to re-establish rail service on the Line.
In 1999, Friends of the HighLine was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood, to advocate for the High Line's preservation and reuse as public open space. The group was able to secure a fellowship from the Design Trust for Public Space provides for architect Casey Jones to conduct research and outreach for "Reclaiming the High Line." A planning study was jointly produced by the Design Trust and Friends of the High Line, which laid out planning framework for the High Line's preservation and reuse. In 2002 Friends of the HighLine gained City support—a City Council resolution advocating for the HighLine's reuse. A 2002 study finds that the High Line project is economically rational: new tax revenues created by the public space will be greater than the costs of construction. In 2002, the City files with the federal Surface Transportation Board for railbanking, making it City policy to preserve and reuse the High Line.
After holding an open ideas competition in 2003 for "Designing the HighLine," 720 teams from 36 countries submitted proposals, and hundreds of design entries were displayed at Grand Central Terminal. Mayor Bloomberg announced City funding for the HighLine.
In 2004, Friends of the HighLine and the City of New York selected a design team comprised of James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an architecture firm, plus various experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art, and other disciplines. The team’s preliminary design was showcased at the Museum of Modern Art.
After a Certificate of Interim Trail Use for the HighLine was issued by the Surface Transportation Board, the City took ownership of the rail line donated by CSX Transportation, Inc., in 200.
Groundbreaking was celebrated in 2006 with the lifting of a rail track and construction officially began in April on Section 1 (Gansevoort Street to 20th Street), as tracks, ballast, and debris were removed, and the tracks were mapped, tagged, and stored (some were reinstalled in the park landscape). This was followed by sandblasting of steel, repairs to concrete and drainage systems, and installation of pigeon deterrents underneath the Line. Landscape construction began in 2008 on Section 1, with construction and installation of pathways, access points, seating, lighting, and planting.
By June 2009, the HighLine had been transformed into a popular public pedestrian park.
Piet Oudolf Landscape Architect
James Corner Field Operations Landscape Architect
Diller Scofidio Architect
Urban Simulation on the HighLine Park (1,777 kb)
Reclaiming the High Line (5,478 kb)
HighLine Park ASLA 2010 Honor Award (530 kb)
Highline Park Printable Map Section 1 (2,388 kb)