(2 minute read)
On a chilly wet mid-March morning in New York we went for a stroll along the much talked about ‘Highline’. When it was created roughly a decade ago there was a huge amount of excitement and interest. This was followed by (perhaps unnecessarily) cynicism that saw it simply as a new hipster necessity of urban chic. So, I’ll try not to get too bogged down in being hip…
To give a brief background; the Highline is a narrow urban park almost 1.5 miles long, meandering between highrises. The park came about following local community action with a desire to create a new green space whilst preserving the local urban character. Their choice of disused raised rail line formed a unique space that has achieved great success. (There are now acres of articles out there describing the project’s history, so I won’t indulge further.)
For us, we had spent a week pounding the pavements up and down Manhattan from Central Park all the way the water and back. Whilst Central Park offers a break from the towering city, the Highline provides a different kind of escape. It is still part of the metropolis. Embracing its industrial fabric and creating an observation post on the edge of a bustling world without the encapsulating scale of its larger neighbour.
The dreary weather and winter season didn’t give us a lot of hope for a park bursting with life. However a gentle mix of scale and texture punctuated by the occasional burst of blooming Autumn Crocus captured the mood. Long flowing grasses below bare branches of reaching trees to either side of the boardwalk were simply pleasant. After the glaring, attention-grabbing screams of some of the city, this is very welcome. (I’ll add that I am architecturally trained and not horticulturally, so feel free to correct my assumption of flower, it was a nice purple one!) The close nature of the park means there is rarely a spot you do not see. The designers have done amazingly well to curate a mix of natural and man made features. Features that are detailed, engaging and welcoming, without being overwhelming.
The strength of subtlety
For me, the Highline is impressive in its subtlety. Being raised these few metres is simple but effective. You rarely have the chance to stand freely above the streets in any major City. It is a great example of urban intervention and regeneration, putting quality and enjoyment first. Enabling these projects is key to a successful built environment. As such they are inherently entwined in a sustainable future. I am a little hesitant to always come back to that word, sustainability, but that’s what this site is about.
By understanding the heritage, culture and value of a place we can then make decisions that ensure the most enjoyable (and so valuable) urban fabric. With these places we are more inclined to maintain, visit and use them regularly. In return we allow ourselves balance and the potential for a good quality of life. So is this ‘hip’ and ‘fady’? Only in that it is new, and a little different, otherwise I entirely hope not. The Highline is tiny in comparison to the city it serves, but its effectiveness and success are clear. What it represents should not be underestimated.
Friends of the Highline. http://www.thehighline.org/
This article has been written unsolicited and without payment.