A Story from New York’s High Line

high-line-story

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Green space in cities is vital for environmental sustainability. But converting unused urban areas into green space can not only bring environmental benefits, it can also encourage social interaction and an improved sense of place, as Mayra Hartmann of Future Cape Town explores in this article.

In 2009, 10 years after its initial conceptualisation, the first phase of The High Line park in the lower West side of Manhattan was opened. This innovative approach to urban revival meant an abandoned freight railway track was transformed into a public park which today stretches from Chelsea right down to the Meatpacking district, providing an escape for New York’s residents.

Several entrances are scattered along Tenth Avenue, some of which include elevator access. From the ground the park itself isn’t visible, instead, all you see are the exterior walls of a refurbished railway line. The first time I walked up these steps, it was almost as if I were stepping into a world unknown to those walking below…

Coming up the access stairs we started our walk, roughly down the middle of the High Line. We were lucky as the second phase of the park had just been open a few months earlier. All along the park the landscape architects have sought to emulate the natural vegetation that has been growing there naturally for years, giving the space an organic feel.

Little reminders of what it is you’re actually walking along are positioned throughout the park. The wooden beams are reminiscent of railway tracks, and in a number of areas they rise out of the ground to create uniquely designed benches. Scattered splashes of colour enhance the playfulness of the surroundings. Possibly because of the infamously small Manhattan apartments, New Yorkers spend extensive parts of their lives in public. Walking through the park you get a strong sense of community, although we were all strangers. People preferred reading, lounging, relaxing, playing and socializing out in the open rather than hidden behind high walls.

Now complete, it is difficult to understand why some residents around The High Line were against its development. Perhaps people don’t always know what it is they want.

The walk along The Highline ended in the Meatpacking district where step by step we headed down into Gansevoort St, and back into the concrete jungle. I kept on wondering why we had left so at peace. And although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it I knew it had something to do with community and nature.

We continued our walk through the city, where we found ourselves in the Financial District, and in the middle of an Occupy Wall Street protest. That is a story all on its own.

17 Sustainable Ideas for COP17 is a collaboration between This Big City and Future Cape Town running alongside the United Nations Climate Change Conference from November 28th to December 9th.