The Park in the Sky
How often does one get a chance to be part of history? That too, the history of such magnificent city as New York? Such was the good fortune of the people around when the Highline opened on June 9, 2009.
What is Highline? It is a beautiful, beautiful park that was built and nurtured on the abandoned old tracks of the 6th Avenue El!
A bit of flashback… the Els, or elevated railroads, in New York were built to avoid the frequent accidents that used to happen with the freight trains running on the ground in the city. It was sooo bad that horse-riding men were employed to gallop ahead of running trains, waving red flags, to keep pedestrians off the tracks! Hence was conceived the idea of train tracks off the ground and running above the city streets.
On June 5, 1878, the 6th Ave El started operations. It covered a distance of 13 miles with stations at Rector St, Cortlandt St, and Park Place on Church Street; Chambers St, Franklin St, Grand St, Bleecker St on West Broadway; 8th, 14th, 23rd, 28th, 33rd, 42nd, 50th and 58th Streets on Sixth Avenue. The line also connected directly to factories and warehouses, enabling freight trains to deliver meat and produce – raw as well as processed – inside the buildings. And what is great, is that the traffic on the El did not affect the ground traffic at all!
However, by the 1930s, the decline of the El had started. The entire structure had weakened beyond hope of repairs. After being operational for 60 years, it was decided that the 6th Avenue El will be torn down. And on Dec 4, 1938, the operations on the line came to an end. And parts of the line were dismantled.
Fast forward to 1980s… plans are being made for the demolition of the remaining parts of the El. Local residents headed by environmentalists and activists challenge the plans in court. In 1999, a neighbourhood group, ‘Friends of the High line’ is formed to find alternate usage for the space offered by the now defunct railroad tracks.
Gradually support for the group increases and in 2002 a City Council resolution is passed advocating the reuse of the tracks.
In 2004, funding from the city is acquired for the development of the tracks. A design is selected through competition and the Highline Park comes into being, with the first section extending from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street open to the public on June 9, 2009!
‘Enchanting’ is an apt word to describe the Highline. The rail tracks are kept intact and flowers, shrubs and trees of all kinds are planted along the sides and between the tracks. And they change according to the seasons, adding variety to the overall sense of greenness that the park has.
The rail tracks that used to go into the meat packing factories and other manufacturing facilities can still be seen, though the entrances to the buildings are blocked up.
You can enjoy coffee, snacks and ice cream in one of these red brick factories, converted to a small marketplace. Also, you will find commemorative t-shirts, pens and very interesting books in the marketplace.
And the Highline has become a venue for art shows and exhibitions. The other day when we visited, a sculpture show was going on, attracting quite a few fans.
In fact, the whole area surrounding the Highline has developed an aura of artiness as evident from the street paintings and art objects.
Looks like even the neighbouring buildings are inspired to contribute to the effort!
And the views! Boy oh boy! It’s wonderful to look along the streets from the height of the Highline Park.
And some of the best views of the Hudson are from the Highline.
Looking for an exotic venue for your next event or occasion? Come to the Highline! And if you are in a mood to help out with the park, you can always volunteer. All in all, the Highline Park is making history in the neighbourhood!