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The High Line

What was, is and will be

WHAT IS IT? A former elevated railway, long fallen into disuse

WHERE IS IT? The 30-foot-high trestle spans the neighborhoods of the Meatpacking District, Chelsea,and the Javits Convention Center area, some 22 blocks,from Gansevoort St up to 34th St along Tenth and Eleventh Aves.

WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE? A public park that consists of an elevated greenway with walking paths

WHEN’S IT GOING TO BE DONE? it’s already under construction; large portions should be completed in 2008, with the rest finished in 2009

Photograph: Ben Ritter

Like its present, New York’s past is constantly in flux. A new shop opens, buildings are torn down, and some new aspect of Gotham’s history you didn’t know existed is unearthed. One of the best second acts in New York history is being played out right now: the repurposing of the High Line. The rusting narrow strip of elevated railroad runs some 22 blocks, from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District on to 34th Street, and hasn’t seen traffic since 1980. But thanks to a whole lot of public activism and the energy of urban renewalists like Friends of the High Line, by 2008 the trestle will become a long, snaking strip of public park. Bloomberg’s endorsed it, and the jackhammers are already running; urban renewal is underway—in this case, 30 feet off the ground.


Image: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Parkland is not a bad fate for a structure that was originally built to save Tenth Avenue from its old reputation as “Death Avenue.” Back in the 19th century, freight-bearing trains competed with horses, carts and pedestrians for supremacy of the thoroughfare, with the latter group the usual victims. (One such accident figured prominently in John Dos Passos’s novel Manhattan Transfer.) The city solved the situation by hoisting the tracks off the street and onto an overhead trestle: a “high line” running trains directly by or through factories and warehouses. But after World War II, when trucking replaced trains, the line fell into disuse. A southern chunk was torn away beginning in the ’60s, and the 1980s saw the business world agitate to yank the whole obsolete thing down. The work of railroad enthusiast Peter Obletz in the 1980s and later, in 1999, Friends of the High Line, founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, saved the relic for its current refurbishment.

Photograph: Joel Sternfeld

The new High Line will be a stroller’s paradise: a grassy, skyborne walkway linking such disparate worlds as the Meatpacking District’s restaurants, Chelsea’s art and late-night club scenes, and the Javits Convention Center. Here, then, is our guide for navigating your own personal investigation of the Line’s ground-level neighbors—everything from the spanking-new Highline Ballroom, with its great sight lines and state-of-the-art concert sound system, to the sleek and chic sculpture at Mary Boone Gallery. While you’re out, don’t forget to glance westward for the best sunsets in town. — Sarah Schmerler and Robert Simonson

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