Paths, plants, blogs: Working on the railroad park

By Katie Lorah

The public space on the High Line is now taking shape above the streets and sidewalks of the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea.

Landscape construction has started on Section 1 of the High Line (Gansevoort St. to 20th St.). Workers are installing the park’s pathways, made of long, smooth, concrete planks. These planks are tapered at the ends to allow plants to push up through the gaps, blurring the boundary between the hard surfaces and the planting. Some of these planks curl up from the surface of the pathway to create the High Line’s signature benches.

At the same time, the construction crew is reinstalling many of the steel rail tracks, where trains once ran. The tracks were marked for their original location before being put in storage during site preparation. They are now being returned to these locations, incorporated into the plantings, as a reminder of the history and original purpose of the High Line. 

There will be an access point rising from street level about every two blocks in Section 1. At two of these points — one at Gansevoort St. and one at 14th St. — the stairway will cut directly through the steel structure itself. This will bring visitors up through the massive steel beams and hand-driven rivets of the High Line, coming face to face with the structure itself, before arriving on the landscape on top. Workers recently removed sections of the steel I-beams at both of these locations, creating cutaways for the stairs.

Later this spring, a team of horticulturists, led by Dutch planting designer Piet Oudolf, plan to start planting on the High Line. The plantings in the park are inspired by the wild landscape that grew up naturally on the structure after the trains stopped running. There will be a focus on native and drought-resistant plants, with many of the same species of grasses and shrubs that were originally found on the High Line. 

Section 1 is projected to open by the end of 2008, and Section 2 (20th to 30th Sts.) is projected to open by the end of 2009.

Although the High Line up to 30th St. is secure, owned by the city, and on its way to becoming a public park, the future of the High Line north of 30th St. is still uncertain. This section, about one-third of the line, wraps around the West Side Rail Yards, a 26-acre site owned by the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The M.T.A. is planning to lease the rail yards site to a private developer for high-density residential and commercial development. As part of this development, the High Line at the rail yards might be partially or fully demolished. Friends of the High Line is working with city, state and federal elected officials and community leaders to ensure that the High Line is fully preserved at the rail yards. F.H.L. has also started a Rail Yards Blog to monitor activity at this important West Side site: https://railyardsblog.org. 

Friends of the High Line is now transitioning into a conservancy organization, which will work with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to maintain and operate the park when it is complete. As part of this transition, Friends of the High Line has recently launched a Charter Membership program. Membership dollars will help make sure the High Line is maintained and operated at a high standard, making it a well-loved neighborhood park. Friends of the High Line is planning a full roster of community events in the year leading up to the opening of Section 1. To learn more about becoming a Charter Member, upcoming events and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.thehighline.org. You can also read the High Line Blog at https://blog.thehighline.org.

Lorah is media and project manager, Friends of the High Line