National Geographic : 2011 Apr
• a harsh, heavy, black steel structure supporting an elevated rail line that once brought freight cars right into factories and warehouses and that looks, at least from a distance, more like an abandoned relic than an urban oasis. Until recently the High Line was, in fact, an urban relic, and a crumbling one at that. Many of its neighbors, as well as New York's mayor for much of the 1990s, Rudolph Giuliani, couldn't wait to tear it down. His administration, aware that Chelsea was gentrifying into a neighbor- hood of galleries, restaurants, and lo living, felt the sur viving portion of the High Line, which winds its way roughly a mile and a half from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street (a section farther south was torn down years ago), was an ugly deadweight. ey were certain this remnant of a di erent kind of city had to be removed for the neighborhood to realize its full potential. Never have public o cials been so wrong. Almost a decade a er the Giuliani administra- tion tried to tear the High Line down, it has been turned into one of the most innovative and invit- ing public spaces in New York City and perhaps the entire country. e black steel columns that once supported abandoned train tracks now hold up an elevated park---part promenade, part town square, part botanical garden. e southern third, which begins at Gansevoort Street and extends to West 20th Street, crossing Tenth Avenue along the way, opened in the summer of 2009. is spring a second section will open, extending the park ten more blocks, roughly a half mile, to 30th Street. Eventually, supporters hope, the park will cover the rest of the High Line (map, pages 128-29). Walking on the High Line is unlike any other experience in New York. You oat about 25 feet above the ground, at once connected to street life and far away from it. You can sit surrounded by carefully tended plantings and take in the sun and the Hudson River views, or you can walk the line as it slices between old buildings and past striking new ones. I have walked the High Line dozens of times, and its vantage point, di erent from that of any street, sidewalk, or park, never ceases to surprise and delight. Not the least of the remarkable things about the High Line is the way, without streets to cross or tra c lights to wait for, ten blocks pass as quickly as two. in which good things rarely happen easily and where good designs are o en compromised, if they are built at all. e High Line is a happy exception, that rare New York situation in which a wonderful idea was not only realized but turned out better than anyone had imagined. It isn't o en in any city, let alone New York, that an unusually sophisticated concept for a public place makes its way through the design process, the political process, and the construc- tion process largely intact. e designers were BY PAUL GOLDBERGER PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIANE COOK AND LEN JENSHEL P arks in large cities are usually thought of as refuges, as islands of green amid seas of concrete and steel. When you approach the High Line in the Chelsea neighborhood on the lower west side of Manhattan, what you see rst is the kind of thing urban parks were created to get away from--- Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New Yorker, is the author of Why Architecture Matters. Diane Cook and Len Jenshel photographed Mount St. Helens for the May 2010 issue.