Monday, June 7, 2010

Take The High Road

Another fabulous week in New York. Our tour this year was a little smaller than typical, a total of 20 folks, but the other leaders who have gone along in past years stayed home this time which left Susan and I to run the show. So a bit more work, but nothing too daunting. We did some of the regular things--three Broadway shows, a guided foot tour, Chinatown--and some new things--most notably a Brooklyn Bridge walk--and everybody had a ripping good time. Our weather was sunny for the whole five days, but temps flirted with the 90s and humidity was high.

(A little bike shop in, I think, Tribeca. An old converted garage, which was quite busy.)

(Looking North along Central Park West a.k.a. 8th Avenue.)

One of the new things I scoped out for next year is the coolest reclamation project in New York, the High Line. This is an old elevated railway that once connected the meatpacking district with the West side docks. The railroad ceased to be a viable thing in the late '60s and saw its final train (three carloads of frozen turkeys, we're told!) in 1980. It's sat vacant since then. The owners of the land beneath the elevated tracks have tried a few times to have the line demolished, but a group of community organizers petitioned to preserve it and the city took it over. Apparently following a Parisian example, the elevated trackway is being turned into a couple-mile-long elevated park and greenspace. I saw it last year as I strolled the Lower West Side, but it wasn't open. Now it's up and running and it's a brilliant thing.

(The start of The High Line. One can see how the tracks originally continued into and through the building.)

(Looking Southward from 20th St.)

The first section starts a little South of 12th St. at Washington St (near 10th Ave.) and runs up to 20th St., for something under a mile's length. Work is currently underway on the second phase, which will continue the line from 20th up to 30th St. The line continues West from 30th St. and then runs North along the river to 34th St. There are plans to convert this section as a third phase, but the fate of this part remains doubtful in part because this section goes over a large rail yard (this would be MY idea of a great thing to look at, but I understand not everyone will share my enthusiasm for transportation and infrastructure). I walked the length of the remaining tracks at ground level, and there is indeed little to see along this final section, though who is to say what benefit this park might bring to the surrounding neighborhoods?

(The original building preserved--or at least its facade--a new building grows up through it, like grass poking through paving stones. The tracks' original pass-thru is retained.)

The open section, however, was being enjoyed by hundreds of people, and it shows off the city from a unique perspective. The path weaves among and through buildings (actually, through large railroad pass-thrus which must once have contained loading docks), but all the street-level cues which one would experience below on foot are absent: there is no traffic constantly threatening to mow you down, and there are no shops or bicycles or hawkers. The noise of all these street-level distractions is still there, but attenuated somewhat. The walking path is mostly granite, and there are lush plantings on one or both sides of the walkway. There were quite a few staff planting and watering and supervising things, and everybody was friendly and helpful. There was even a work by a visual artist, a kind of peephole which forced viewers to look through a metal screen with geometric shapes cut out of it, the effect being a collection of colors and textures and shapes whose distance from you cannot be determined. So we see the city in snippets with no perspective. People were lined up for that. There were a few vendor carts, and numerous seating areas. I suspect there will be more vendors and cafes as the project progresses, but it was a hopping place today.

I couldn't help wondering whether we might eventually see an extended network of elevated walkways and bikeways in the city. Bus and taxi and other traffic make getting around on the ground a pretty slow affair; cars in Manhattan average 3-5 mph. That's great for walking, as there's so much to see; but I can see the advantages of getting above all the furor and making better time. This park project is surely possibly only because the cost of elevating the structure is removed from the equation. No doubt having to erect the structure would be a show-stopper.

(The unfinished section looking North from 20th. This ten-block section will be open next year.)

Ah well, we're hugely lucky that this section was saved and that it works so beautifully in this public works capacity.

(One of six current access points to The High Line.)

(Times Square at 10:PM. Broadway is closed to traffic from 42nd or so up to 47th, but pedestrians fill up every square inch of the place. This is quintessential tourist New York.)


dbackdad said...

Great stuff. It is one of the regrets of my life that I have not yet been to NY.

BTW, cool scientists video in your previous post. All those guys (and Sam Harris) are pretty much my heroes. I would have waded into the discussion but I didn't read the post until it was about 20 comments in ... a little late to the party.

Jon said...

Looks like another great time was had by all! Now, if only I could talk Kyle into coming along.