When Bonnie and I visited Manhattan in May of 2013, the first place that my college roommate Robert took us was the High Line, an urban park created atop an abandoned elevated rail line on the west side of the island, running from Gansevoort Street north to 34th Street, over 20 blocks long. We climbed up the stairs at 20th Street to discover a wide walk surrounded by masses of flowers, shrubs, and trees. At some points along the popular walk, I noticed old steel rails and imagined they carried commuter trains, like the elevated lines of Chicago. But I misunderstood.
Annik La Farge tells the full story in On the High Line: Exploring America's Most Original Urban Park. The High Line opened in 1934 to get freight trains off the busy streets of the industrial west side. These trains delivered produce, raw materials, and manufactured goods from docks on the Hudson River to factories and warehouses, many with elevated rails running right into their buildings. The line was abandoned in 1980, and a debate about what to do with the property began. In the 1990s, naturalists noticed how abundantly wildflowers were growing all along the tracks and the effort to make a park began. Parts of it opened in 2003.
History is just a part of La Farge's book. Almost every page is filled with beautiful color photos of the park as it is today, and the author reports on ongoing projects on and around the High Line, which has proved to be a spark to urban renewal. Readers see that its great variety of spaces provide community gathering spots, places for quiet relaxation, great views of the Manhattan skyline, and a handy path for many New Yorkers going to work or out for the evening.
On the High Line is just what New York needs to combat the image of the city as gray and dreary place. It can go into either landscaping, travel, or history collections.
La Farge, Annik. On the High Line: Exploring America's Most Original Urban Park. Thames & Hudson, 2014. 226p. ISBN 9780500291412