Tuesday, July 28, 2009

High Time on the High Line

There is a narrow stretch of park, less than a mile long, built on top of an old elevated railway that hovers 30 feet above the streets of West Chelsea that is getting a lot of attention lately from New Yorkers. It is called the High Line and since it opened just a few weeks ago has already become a favorite destination for pleasure-seeking Manhattanites. The appeal is a combination of the novelty of strolling through one of Manhattan’s most fashionable neighborhoods from such a lofty perch and the fact that its landscaping and design are the result of a lot of creative thought.

The High Line is almost exactly three building storeys above the city. I know this because you can look directly into the many third-floor windows that are built into its route. This perspective on the city is strangely thrilling. Being three floors up doesn’t seem like much, but somehow you see things that otherwise elude you. And when you add in the ingenious design features and the landscape of wildflowers and exotic grasses, unique is the only way to describe it.

The ingenious design features I refer to include a comfortable, attractively paved walking path that follows a sort of meandering, river-like pattern, complete with intriguing tributaries. This path is never less than about eight feet wide and often considerably more, though given the heavy foot traffic, the going can be slow when you hit these narrow passages. Surrounding this main walking path and its offshoots are landscaped plots that seem wild and indigenous, though as one commentator has noted, such naturalness is actually the result of elaborate planning. Each turn in the walkway offers a little surprise, either in how it connects to an adjoining walk-up or skyscraper, or with respect to the view you get of Chelsea’s best known structures, particularly the recently completed Frank Gehry building along the Hudson, whose geometric richness benefits from the constantly shifting perspective the meandering High Line affords.

One of the uniformed observers who is keeping a headcount of users told me that last Saturday some 1500 people an hour were entering and exiting at the West Village end of the High Line. That is a whole lot of people, especially when you consider that the High Line’s only attraction is a lovely, cleverly landscaped walking space with a unique perspective on the city. No moving pictures, no funny people, no classic sculptures, virtually no food other than a gelato cart or two. Just the High Line, pure and simple, offering a high time you really can’t get anywhere else.

1 comment:

  1. Newness must be a major factor in the size of the crowds. New Yorkers are notorious for trendiness and finding the next 'big thing'. But I'd like to think that it may be more than that. The prospect of finding something new in the familiar is a powerful lure.