Walking New York City’s High Line
Landscaping comes to the fore in this section. Different areas have names such as Chelsea Thicket, Wildflower Field and Woodland Flyover. The authenticity of this green belt, designed by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and Dutch horticulturalist Piet Udolf, is confirmed by the presence of bees, dragonflies and even crickets, whose cheerful chatter can often be heard on summer evenings.
‘Someone asked me how we managed to pipe in the sound of crickets,’ says High Line co-founder Robert Hammond. ‘I said, “We didn’t. Those are the real thing.”’
The High Line gardeners are articulate advocates for their flora. Johnny Linville, the horticulture foreman, is busy yanking up weeds and asking pedestrians not to sample the plump, dark serviceberries.
‘The artistry of this job lies in how you maintain and manicure a landscape without having it look maintained and manicured. By design, it’s a wild landscape, so you have to hide any evidence of grooming,’ he says, looking out over the beds of Korean feather grass, yarrow, black-eyed Susans and coreopsis by the Meadow Walk.
‘A weed is, by definition, just a plant in the wrong place,’ Linville notes, as if apologising to them. ‘There are mornings when I’m up here weeding and I forget I’m 30 feet above the city. It’s a kind of magical feeling. I like to think this is a place people are escaping to.’
New Yorkers can come here to escape some of the problems of the city streets below. The crime rate in the park has been a refreshing surprise – it is zero. Feeling safe exploring the High Line’s nooks and crannies, people also seem to behave less like strangers and more like conspirators in an urban experiment.
Eye contact happens often and when a toddler in a Ramones T-shirt pauses to perform a wobbly dance in front of a lone saxophonist crooning a melancholy rendition of La Vie en Rose above 20th Street, walkers stop, smile and soak it in.
The television chef and entrepreneur Tom Colicchio runs a restaurant, Colicchio & Sons, just west of the High Line at 15th Street, but for the summer of 2011 he also organised The Lot on Tap – a casual amalgam of food trucks and locally sourced keg wine and beer at The Lot, a temporary public plaza beneath the High Line’s 30th Street terminus.
Unfortunately, The Lot occupies land where there are plans to build a condominium tower in 2012. However, Mr Colicchio hopes that a different space can be found for it nearby. He can see the High Line from his apartment on Horatio Street and often uses it to walk to work.
‘It’s very active,’ he says, ‘but even so, there’s a sense of not rushing to or from some place, an old-time feeling of slowing things down.’
The next level
The High Line ends too soon. At 30th Street, the ‘Viewing Spur’ – an empty billboard frame that affords views over the surrounding neighbourhood – overlooks a temporary roller-skating rink and active rail yards to the west of Penn Station. At the park’s end is a chainlink fence, but the High Line itself stretches on another half a mile to West 34th Street, its green, overgrown expanse still untamed.
Soon it won’t be necessary to stop here and descend to street level. The High Line’s third and final phase has been planned for completion in 2014, just in time for the original’s 80th birthday. Costing $70m (£45m), it will curve west toward the Hudson River and terminate at 34th Street.