A few days ago, I promised to show you something new in New York City that I think is really terrific. First, a brief history lesson. Prior to the 1930's, rail freight in Manhattan ran level with the surface streets. Responding to years, of problems with freight trains mowing down cars and pedestrians, the High Line was built. The High Line ran down the west side of Manhattan about 30' above the ground. It went directly through buildings which built their own sidings to accept rail freight and got a hefty bit of traffic up in the air and out of everyone's way. It operated until 1980 when the last train ran on the High Line. (It was a delivery of frozen turkeys!)
Since the High Line closed to rail traffic, there's been a constant argument regarding what to do with the elevated rail line, which frankly was just decaying and becoming either an eyesore or a dramatic background, depending on your perspective. An organization called Friends of the High Line was founded and their dream of refurbishing the structure and opening it as a public park was realized last week. The first section of the High Line opened to the public last week (from Gansevoort to 20th St), and it's spectacular. Ultimately, the park will be open all the way up to 34th Street.
Here's a couple of links that are much more authoritative on the subject:
The History of the High Line, and a gallery of photos of the High Line in operation.
As a side note -- currently, there is no freight rail connecting NYC to New Jersey...which might have something to do with the amount of truck traffic on our streets, but that's a topic for another post.
Anyway, I went and took some shots of the new park last Tuesday, the day it opened. I deem it excellent.
First, a couple of shots from street level as an introduction. This is a shot showing the last existing portion at the southern end of the line. If it hadn't been demolished, the line would continue through the yellowish building there at the end.
Here's another spot. The part on the left is the main line and the part on the right is a spur leading into a building on the west side of 10th Avenue. (Later in the tour, you can see the same spot from track level and if you look at the link with historic photos, it also shows up there.)
This is one of the stairways leading up to the park. The building in the shot is brand new and they built it on stilts to accommodate the High Line (I don't suppose they had a choice by the time they built it, but still...)
Most of the length of the park incorporates walkways with old rails and wildflowers. It feels a lot like being a kid and exploring a secret place. One of those places your parents told you not to go to.
There are quite a few places to sit and watch the rest of the world go by.
More rails and flowers.
Unlike most parks, there's no attempt to create an illusion that you've removed yourself from the city, you're merely above it all -- both literally and figuratively.
There's an amphitheater built above 17th Street. I'll admit I'm not entirely sure what this is about, but people seem to be enjoying it. (Because of the choice of wood, it looks and smells like you've entered a sauna. Come August, it'll probably feel that way too, but that's not a knock on it.)
Here's the amphitheater from street level. If you embiggen the picture, you'll see that there's an uncompleted platform outside of the picture windows. Maybe there'll be performances in the air for folks to watch at some future date.
In the meantime, everyone seems happy to sit here and watch traffic go by under their feet.
I saw quite a few people posing for pictures with the traffic as a backdrop.
Along one stretch, there are these attractive wooden lounging chairs. They face an opening in the buildings to the west with a view of the Hudson River a block away. I'm betting these will be extremely popular on sunny afternoons. (You're invited to remember this version of lounging in a public space. Later in the post, I'll show you another, hideously tragic vision of the same idea.)
Note that they're built on rail wheels and positioned on the tracks. (I only saw ones that had the wheels clamped, but a friend said you can move some of them.)
There are a lot of really nice views from the park.
In some spots, the juxtaposition of the city and the park are quite fanciful. I was struck by this relationship and snapped off quite a few shots. I can't tell if my favorite was the one with this guy...
or this one.
The park includes some little nooks that come closer to removing you from the hustle and bustle.
This is right there in the middle of things but somehow, it's separate and idyllic.
Remember that shot from street level? This shows you where that spur used to enter the building on the west side of Tenth Avenue. To the right is the continuation of the main line. There's an almost identical shot in the historic photos link showing a rail car entering the building.
Now...onto the Really, Really Bad...
I've mentioned that I can't stand Times Square. I'll drive blocks out of my way to avoid trying to fight my way through it if I'm in a car and I rarely even walk through it unless someone is paying me to be there. It's noisy and crowded and full of clueless tourists who have no idea where they're going. It's a crushingly annoying place.
For better or worse, though...this is what it's supposed to look and feel like.
Well, Mayor Bloomberg got a bug up his ass and decided he'd try to transform the place into..something...I'm not sure what. Times Square exists because Broadway runs south through all of Manhattan, but at a slight angle...constantly angling east as it heads for lower Manhattan. Times Square is where it crosses Seventh Avenue. Our dear Mayor decided to close a few blocks of Broadway to traffic and make them into a pedestrian mall. I'm not entirely sure what he ultimately envisions, but the execution of the "temporary experiment" is...sorry...words fail me.
Remember those attractive wooden loungers on the High Line? In Times Square, apparently, you're supposed to feel like you drove in from Indiana with some lawn chairs from your backyard. And since they're just haphazardly plopped into the street (uh, is there supposed to be some direction you should focus on?), they're less about a moment of relaxation than they are about boredom. Frankly, it seems like people sit in them because they think they're expected to sit in them...and then they spend their time wondering how much longer they have to stay before they can go look for a bar.
But, (as I mentioned), secretly, I think it's a kinda good thing. We love tourists in NY and we really love tourist's money in NY...we just wish they'd come here and spend it without getting in our way. Maybe Mayor Mike has just provided a convenient place to pen them in...a place none of us locals wanted to go in the first place.
To paraphrase George Patton, "Bloomberg, you magnificent bastard!"