The High Line is meant to look like a wild landscape, but it requires an extraordinary amount of work to maintain the plant life and keep the park clean and welcoming for its visitors.
With more than one mile of parkland, mechanical infrastructure, and unique operational challenges, it takes close coordination of a team of dedicated gardeners, custodians, technicians, and more to keep an elevated park like the High Line running smoothly. That’s why we are pleased to welcome Ronnit Bendavid-Val to our staff, as our new Vice President of Horticulture & Park Operations.
Ronnit brings over a decade of experience with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to her new position of overseeing our team of horticultural and maintenance staff.
Join us after the jump and get to know Ronnit.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up moving between – and living in – different countries around the world, but I consider New York City my home. I have now lived in this city for more than a decade. I have a Bachelor of Science and a Masters degree in Agronomy – or agricultural science – from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Israel. I love working with plants and I have always found a way to do that, even before I took it up professionally. I have a spiritual teacher who has changed my life by changing the way I see the world and our place in it, and I am deeply grateful for the entirety of my life and feel an obligation to give back as a result.
I’ve been very excited to work at Friends of the High Line because I see this park as a creative edge of human ingenuity, incorporating and integrating many facets of life and culture into a seamless and unified expression of the best of life in the city.
You have been working with Friends of the High Line for several weeks now. What are your first impressions?
First of all, I’m incredibly impressed with the dedication, passion, and quality that the whole organization brings to the High Line. Josh and Robert, the co-founders, seem to have an endless source of creativity in them, and they have built an organization of people who are energetic, creative, have very high standards for themselves and the High Line, and are committed to being the standard for others.
Secondly, my love of the High Line itself has increased since I’ve been here. I appreciate more than ever the consciousness brought to the entire design, for instance the way the plants and architecture are integrated with each other. The High Line is also integrated with the surrounding cityscape – a world in itself but not separate from the buildings and neighborhoods around it.
Thirdly, I’ve been impressed with how art is another facet of the High Line that expresses the integration with the landscape and the city. High Line Art is part of the continuous flow of creativity of this neighborhood, contributing a complementary counterpart to the art galleries in surrounding streets, and at the same time presenting its own identity.
What are some of the upcoming projects at the High Line that you’re looking forward to tackling?
There are a few things I’m looking forward to. We’re heading into a new phase of maintenance of the park since we’ve been open a few years now, and our park architectural elements and infrastructure have had different levels of use and wear-and-tear. Continued maintenance at the standards we hold will require a multi-level approach to our maintenance activities and I’m looking forward to working with my staff to develop the systems for this.I’m also looking forward to working closely with the horticulture staff as we continue to refine our expertise in plant care and explore new and innovative strategies with low environmental impact.
And of course I’m excited to watch the new High Line Headquarters building construction progress. Moving in next year will involve a process of re-organization that will enable us to work more efficiently -- I’m looking forward to that too.
How does the working at the High Line compare to working with other parks in the city?
I love our city parks. We have probably the largest city park system in the country, with more than 29,000 acres in all five boroughs. Having worked in the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation for 12 years, I know what goes into managing our city parks, and the tremendous efforts that Parks’ employees make toward keeping our city’s parks beautiful.
At the High Line we are very fortunate to have strong community support that allows us to hire staff to focus on details that are otherwise difficult to manage. As a result, the High Line has outstanding horticulture, maintenance and custodial care, and rapid response-time to challenges.
Another interesting aspect of working at the High Line is that I get the chance to focus in-depth on a single park. Previously I held the position of Citywide Director of Horticulture for the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, and in that capacity I was involved from an Agency-level perspective with horticulture in all five boroughs. My scope was very broad in terms of horticultural policy and applications. Here at the High Line, I have the chance to focus more in-depth on all aspects of the park, to get to know each plant individually and know how they are grown, become familiar with each architectural feature of the High Line, and learn how all of it fits together and to work as one beautiful park.
Do you have a favorite plant on the High Line?
I don’t have a favorite plant, although there are a number that stand out more than others, and this changes each season – sometimes each week – as the plants grow throughout the year.
I think one of the strengths of the planting design is that it captures you both from the intimate details of one plant as you look at it up-close, the view of an entire bed and how all the plants fit and flow together, the perspective of the plant beds integrated in the architecture of the High Line, and the view of the entire High Line as it flows through the city. This is part of the genius of the plant palette, plant placement, and landscape design, which holds true the whole length of the park.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is thinking about visiting the High Line this summer?
Make sure to put a visit to the High Line on your calendar this year!
If you’ve never been here, it’s a must-see without question. If you have visited the High Line before, you’ll want to return to see the new High Line Art installations, like Lilliput, and enjoy the new food partners serving delicious sweets and savory snacks, with all-compostable containers.
If you had to describe the High Line in one word, what would it be?