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9 June 2009

NYC's park in the sky opens this week, view slide show

SARA KUGLER The Journal News - (United States) [Feature]


People walk on an abandoned elevated rail line in New York. Richard Drew

An elevated rail line abandoned nearly 30 years ago on Manhattan's West Side reopens this week as a landscaped public park that sits three stories above the city's streets.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the founders of the High Line park unveiled on Monday the first half-mile section of the High Line park, scheduled to open to the public the following day.

The High Line stretches 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District all the way up to 30th Street along Manhattan's West Side, with dazzling views of the city and the Hudson river, including many landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. The rail line stands as high as 30 feet, and is 60 feet wide in some places, with railings of about three feet.

Many of those attending the opening ceremony noted how the High Line provides a new window for viewing the city's famous skyline.

'Anytime you usually look at the city from high up, you're inside a building,' said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. 'But to be able to look from an elevated level and be outdoors is just a wonderful feeling.'

Paris recently converted a rail viaduct into an elevated park called the Promenade Plantee, but officials say the High Line park is the first of its kind in the United States. Similar projects are being considered in Philadelphia and Chicago.

New York's rail line was built in the 1930s for freight trains carrying dairy products, produce and meats to refrigerated warehouses and factories in the area. The goal was to raise the trains up and away from the increasingly crowded street level, which had become so treacherous for pedestrians that 10th Avenue was nicknamed 'Death Avenue.'
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The last train ran on the High Line in 1980, and for many years, community groups and parks advocates sought to have it made over into a public space, while some neighborhood residents wanted it torn down.

'People called it a blight, eyesore, crumbling relic,' Bloomberg said.

It was nearly destroyed in 2001, but a judge blocked those plans after community advocates and the City Council filed a lawsuit. The campaign attracted numerous celebrity advocates who helped raise money and advance the cause; several, including designer Diane Von Furstenberg and chef Mario Batali, attended the ceremony Monday.

Construction on the project began in 2006, and the first section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, will open to visitors on Tuesday. The second portion from 20th Street to 30th Street is expected to open next year.

The total cost of both sections is $152 million, funded in part by private donations as well as the city, state and federal government.

The park is a mix of concrete and green landscaping, with features like a wading pool and trees in some areas. Designers were able to incorporate the original train tracks into some of the landscaping, as well as preserve much of the natural wildflowers and other plant life that have grown there for years.

When it is completed, there will be access points every two to three blocks, including some with elevators, organizers say.

The park will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dogs will not be allowed for the time being because many of the new plantings are fragile.

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