Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Walk The Line

© Simon Poulter 2013
For a city so seemingly welded to mechanised transportation, one of the true joys of New York is its walkability.

With its traffic-choked streets packed tightly into a 23-square mile mesh, and the subway providing an edgy, but quick, means of getting around only if you're prepared to travel in vertical lines, your own feet are often the quickest form of transport here.

Which makes The High Line a very logical development in urban wellbeing. It's a public park and walkway created from a disused, elevated railway line built in 1934 to carry freight 30 feet above New York's West Side.

(Facebook/The High Line)
In 1999, with the then out-of-commission line due to be demolished, a group of local residents started campaigning to turn the track into a unique urban park. The outcome was the formation of a not-for-profit organisation that would managed the exhaustive effort to raise the substantial amount of money needed to transfom the former railway line, and then maintain and run the park on an ongoing basis.

Ten years later the first section opened, running from the junction of Gansevoort Street and Washington Street in the Meatpacking District to West 20th. A second section followed two years ago taking the trail a further ten blocks to West 30th, just west of 10th Avenue.

Currently running for just a mile and a half, The High Line is hardly America's most strenuous hiking trail. There are even elevators at each end for those who can't use the various staircases accessing the trail along the way. But this isn't a trail designed for those hearty types who are happiest stomping through the wilderness. This is a walk through the urban jungle.

For its duration, The High Line provides fascinating glimpse of the Manhattan you would never see if you only stuck to Times Square and Broadway. Yes, there are stunning views of the Empire State Building poking the skyline, and lofty views of New York's cross streets, stretching up an over Manhattan's bony spine. But there are also abandoned factories, warehouses, even the former site of Bell Labs, now part of the company I work for. Interspersed with the trees and plants are pieces of abstract art and scultpure, and tunnels coursing through the supports of buildings, as the original High Line track would have carried freight into the heart of the city.

© Simon Poulter 2013
The High Line is a fantastic oasis of calm, snaking in and out of some of New York's oldest industrial buildings and some of its sleekest steel and glass office complexes. Along the way, it's carefully-tended flora - which on my visit was in full autumnal colour - adds to the sense of relaxation.

© Simon Poulter 2013
© Simon Poulter 2013
There's more to come, too: last night the High Line organisation unveiled plans for a third section, The Spur, that will extend beyond West 30th Street and into a wide open area adjacent to 10th Avenue that will create New York's newest park, a wide, wooded space in what were originally railway yards. The aim is to have the $76 million extension open later next year, with funding coming from a combination of private philanthropy and some public funds.

Picture courtesy of The High Line Org.
Walking is one of the surprising attractions of New York, a city whose yellow cabs are as prominent a representative symbol as any of its fixed attractions. Apart from anything else, its estimated 8,000 miles of streets are the easiest form of mass transit. From a Midtown hotel you can be in the East Village, TriBeCa, SoHo or Central Park in the space of half an hour - often the time it takes to walk to and into a subway station and wait for the right train - or get through traffic.

What makes The High Line, however, one of New York's simplest but greatest treasures is that you can't help but feeling becalmed after taking a stroll along it. Arriving, if walking north-to-south, in the Meatpacking District, you then have the West Village, TriBeCa and SoHo beyond it, before walking into the hectic concrete canyons of the Financial District.

For a mile and a half, then, The High Line is the perfect antidote to the city that never sleeps, not that you would wish New York to be any different. New York is the city you come to as a visitor because you want the hustle and bustle. The High Line is, though, an innovation borne of innovation. To some it might just be a footpath on a disused railway track, but to this tourist, it's a half hour-injection (or an hour, or two hours or however long you want to take) of tranquility.

© Simon Poulter 2013

For further information about The High Line visit http://www.thehighline.org/

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