New York City’s Highline Park is an excellent example of good leadership in planning on the parts of both the designer, James Corner, and the committee, Friends of the High Line, who were instrumental in bringing the park into being. This old elevated railway had outlived its original purpose as a railway but still had value as a link to the past of not only New York City but our nation as a whole. Railways were a vital part of the growth of the American economy, for many decades rail was the primary means of shipping goods from one location to another and was used not only for long distances but within a cities. New York City in particular had numerous segments of these shipping railways that ran throughout the city on tracks elevated 30 feet in the air so that they could move freely and safely without interfering with traffic on the streets below. The High Line, one of these elevated railways, ran through Manhattan’s West Side and connected the area factories and warehouses by running directly through them, eliminating the need for external loading areas. The tracks served from 1934-1980 carrying a wide variety of goods along it’s 13 mile long course until it was eventually decommissioned like so many other railways due to the increase in the use of motorized shipping methods.
In the mid 1980s a group of property owners who owned the land under the old High Line petitioned to have the railway torn down to remove the easements from their land with the hope of increasing it’s value and sale potential. Railroad aficionado Peter Obletz had other ideas however and petitioned to have the elevated rail line saved and service re-established. Service was not re-established but the railway was not torn down either and members of the High Line neighborhood association formed Friends of the Highline to continue to advocate for the preservation of the High Line railway and it’s use as a public space.
Once the Friends of the High Line had accomplished their initial goal and demolition of the High Line was no longer imminent it was time to consider how to turn this unique space into something the public could use and enjoy for generations to come. A contest was held to search for a design team and the best design for this public, open space that would benefit the neighborhood both now and in future generations. The winning entry come from the well known landscape architect James Corner and his design firm James Corner Field Operations. Corner is the recipient of numerous awards and is considered a leader in innovative, cutting edge landscape design. Through his work he strives to bring open spaces to the public and has been compared to the Fredrick Law Olmsted the designer of New York city’s Central Park. With Corner’s design behind them Friends of the High Line petitioned for and won public funding of the High Line reuse project.
Construction on the High Line began in April 2006, to date three phases have been constructed and the park is now approximately 1.5 miles long and runs from the meatpacking district to Hell’s Kitchen with more construction slated for the future. Corner’s vision of a “fantastic, perennial landscape” has been recognized and contributes to both the High Line neighborhood and the city of New York.
The High Line is a great example of planning leadership in two arenas, first the committee and it’s members who actively sought to save what they saw as a valuable part of both the past and present makeup of their neighborhood by involving city planning bodies and city resources. Second, James Corner with his innovative plans that enrich the lives of those who use the spaces he designs shows incredible leadership and forethought in creating livable cities that incorporate serene public spaces which benefit all who visit them.
As Boiseans we are fortunate to have a great system of public parks and trails even if they are not quite as original as New York’s High Line. Reading about this all did make me think about how we might incorporate some of the ideas of the High Line here in Boise. Perhaps even something as simple making the open spaces in downtown where people walk and congregate, areas such as 8th street and BODO, more organic and less accessible to vehicle traffic so that the feeling would be more park like with commercial space integrated like they have done with the High Line. Though I am not sure if Idaho is quite ready for such a space just yet due to our heavy use of the automobile perhaps it would be a direction to consider in the future planning endeavors.
- Living the ‘Highline’ (georgiahammond.wordpress.com)
- Two Sides of The Highline (brianachapman.wordpress.com)