The High line… For New Yorkers, old places deserve a new lease of life. By Solène Gauthier

High line?

Green areas in New York City is where people go to find a bit of peace…

Two young New Yorkers decided, thirteen years ago, that their city needed more of that vital green space and, at the same time, saved an important landmark. This particular park is in an unexpected place, thirty feet above street level...

In 1980 the last freight train ran along the elevated railway line in the Lower West Side of Manhattan called the High line. Almost 20 years later, in August 1999, a public meeting was held to discuss the future of the High Line. Joshua David and Robert Hammond, two neighbourhood nobodies, suggested it be saved and recycled into public green space. To them, it was a thing of cultural importance. It has since become wildly successful…

Those two men, who just wanted to improve their neighbourhood, imagined that this rusting structure on the verge of being pulled down could be developed into a unique park: “The High line is not just a park; it is also a promenade that gives incredible and new views on New-York City” says Joshua David one of the co-founders of Friends of the High line. You can wander along its one mile route taking in views of the Hudson River and Chelsea, look at pedestrians and cars on 10th Avenue, or choose to stop on one of the many benches and sunbathe.

The secrets of the success of the High line are that it slows people down and that it stays part of the city; you can still see and feel that when you are walking along the park. This is something really important for New Yorkers, who, even if they sometimes ask for the peace and quiet of the countryside, are resolutely townsfolk that need the city around them to “survive”! The High line includes the idea of going somewhere, the idea of the street, which is the principal NYC public place. It is the perfect marriage of street and park.

The first section of the High line opened in June 2009 and the second in June 2011. It was a frank success for both the architects and New York City. Three years after the first section of the park opened to the public, it is one of the city’s most popular parks, drawing millions of visitors and promoting real estate conversion, with, for example, the transformation around the park of old warehouses into high standard buildings.

What really happened there is, first and foremost, a triumph of historic preservation and design” says the president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation of New York.

The High line is just one of the many examples of historic preservation in New York; another famous example is the Jefferson Market Library. The Jefferson Market Branch New York Public Library, better known to New Yorkers as Jefferson Market Courthouse, was originally built as the Third Judicial District Courthouse. Faced with demolition in 1959, public outcry led to its reuse as a branch of the New York Public Library.

Another example is the Alexander Hamilton U.S Custom House, originally built by the Federal Government to house the duty collection operations for the Port of New York it is now the home of the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indians and will, in 2012, be home to the National Archives.

Those examples are just a tiny part of what New Yorkers are ready to do to keep “alive” their buildings. According to the New Yorkers some buildings deserve a second life and they will do everything they can so that New York cultural heritage survives.


1970, a crush of straphangers crowds a subway car in Manhattan.

Ralph Crane—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Originally published in the January 9, 1970, issue of LIFE