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HEAVEN AND EL

By DAN KADISON
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April 21, 2005 -- A cluster of trees stands 30 feet above the street; glass staircases lead past polished steel girders; concrete slabs rub against native grasses and wildflowers.

New Yorkers got their first look yesterday at early designs for the High Line, the mile-and-a-half stretch of deserted elevated train line on the West Side that's expected to be converted into a beautiful public green space running from 34th to Gansevoort streets.

"This is exciting for us because what started as a dream is becoming a reality," said Joshua David, who co-founded Friends of the High Line, a grassroots group, with fellow community resident Robert Hammond in 1999.

"These are exciting designs that will continue to change as we move forward," David said. "But they begin to address the important, practical questions like plantings, access and security that will make the High Line one of the most successful and welcoming public spaces in New York."

For the first phase of construction extending from Gansevoort to 15th streets the architectural firms of Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro have created an environment where flowering meadows, lily-pad ponds, and wood thickets thrive against a backdrop of glass, concrete and steel.

The designers are keeping the projected mood of the entire project "simple, wild, quiet and slow," David said.

More designs can be seen online at thehighline.org, where donations for the project are welcome, or visit Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, where an exhibition dedicated to the High Line opened yesterday.

Friends of the High Line partnered with the city in 2002 to turn the elevated rail, which closed for good around 1980, into an integrated system of nature and pathways. The site is still private property owned by railroad company CSX Transportation, however, and David cautioned New Yorkers against trying to sneak a peek.

But David said the city, with federal help, is midway to brokering a deal with CSX. And the state, along with many property owners, has given a thumbs up to the project, which is projected to cost between $65 million and $100 million.

Ground could be broken on the first phase of construction by the end of this year, with the entire project finished as early as 2010.



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