I took advantage of an early Sunday morning during last weekend's trip to Manhattan to explore the High Line. I'd read a lot about this smart, sensitive, and refreshingly whimsical re-visioning of the urban landscape. Originally built in Lower Manhattan during the 1930's as an elevated railway, the High Line tracks were laid through the center of buildings in order to collect goods without affecting street traffic. Since it was decommissioned in 1980, the derelict railway has been in eyesore. Starting in 1999, a group of inspired activists initiated a move to re-use this urban space. Much work later, in June 2009, Section I (Gansevoort Street to 20th Street) opened to the public.
Because of its elevation, long urban vistas unroll from all angles. A cross-town canyon stretches beyond a screen of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum "Gateway"), purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea "Vintage Wine"), and broadleaf ironwood (Vernonia glauca).
The quintessential New York skyline of a rooftop water tank on a block-built modernist building is softened by foreground grasses.
Rather than trying to force the High Line into the ill-fitting form of a romantic garden or a greensward park, the designers played with its abandoned urban history: they incorporated lots of native plants, like this familiar wasteland tree (oh, what is its name?) and Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), and included species that had been growing on the tracks.
The plant selections are in tonal harmony with the reds, greys, and browns of the built environment. Here, layers of grasses, silvery coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea "Jade"), and pale pink American boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) echo the stone facade behind.
The seed heads of many flowering plants, like these drumstick alliums, remained intact, giving just the right mix of color and texture.
How great that the park attendant I asked could give me the Latin names of the plants I asked about! But there were so many varieties I was interested in. Next time, I'll bring a copy of that month's plant list with me!
A couple of days after my visit, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded to the High Line founders the 2010 Jane Jacobs Medals. Congratulation to the most deserving recipients whose work "creates new ways of seeing and understanding New York City, challenges traditional assumptions, and creatively uses the urban environment to make New York City a place of hope and expectation." And forward to the future!