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High Line’s Next Phase: Less Glitz, More Intimacy

High Line’s Next Phase: Less Glitz, More Intimacy

The New York Times 12/19/2010


Thirty feet above street level and just west of 10th Avenue near 25th Street, the view westward between a pair of old buildings reveals tall smokestacks and a sliver of the Hudson River in the distance.

“This is a piece of lost New York that still exists,” said Peter Mullan, a planning official for the next phase of the High Line, set to open sometime next spring.

Mr. Mullan, a vice president of Friends of the High Line, was standing on the elevated line near a section of the park that was once a sort of fertile urban valley above the street, where wild trees and plants thrived in the trapped moisture and heat in a canyonlike stretch of track between two buildings.

Designers of the second phase of the High Line worked this quirk into the park design, creating a “Woodland Flyover” section in which a steel walkway eight feet above the park’s surface allows for expansive planting beds and dense vegetation.

Rare vistas and creative uses of the ever-changing urban context: this is what visitors can expect from the next section of the High Line, the 1.45-mile linear park built on an elevated train track that snakes through the West Side of Manhattan.

The first section, which runs along and near 10th Avenue from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District up to 20th Street, opened last year.

But that was only the lower third of the old train line. This next phase — no opening date has been set — from 20th Street through West Chelsea north to 30th Street, doubles the accessible length of the park.

The final piece will shoot west on 30th before curving around the West Side Railyards and ending at 34th Street near the Javits Center.

In the biting cold last week, Mr. Mullan and several other officials offered a preview of the new section, which is still very much a construction zone. Hard hats were passed out — don’t these things have earmuffs? — and the group unlocked the gate at 20th Street that currently marks the north end of the park. Walking north, the group stepped carefully to avoid power tools, dodged busy workers and balanced on plywood planks bridging gaps in the walkways still being completed.

The design of Section 2 is of a piece with the existing park including the snazzy pathways of smooth concrete planks and the funky “peel-up” benches. The train tracks continue, knifing through the pathways and the planting beds. As in the lower portion of the park, there is street access every few blocks.

But the second section is a whole other park, simply because it explores a different section of the city and because the rail line has its own changing shape and character. The new section feeds off both factors in its design, with new features at every block.

There is an elevated stretch of grass — the High Line’s first lawn! — between 22nd and 23rd Streets, the fertile valley near 26th Street, and an elegant sweep of curved benches at 29th Street where the tracks turn westward. There are plans for a grating over 30th Street to allow users to peer directly down to ground level.

Section 2, like the north end of Section 1, runs between blocks, about 100 feet west of 10th Avenue. The walkway continues the lofty feel of the existing park, lifting the user above the maddening street chaos. But while the existing section rubs up against the trendy Meatpacking District, the new section feels more like a walk on the wild side. There are some sleek new buildings — and many more proposed or in construction — but many of the buildings abutting this stretch of park are old, gritty and splotched with graffiti.

At various points, the city sprawl seems to rush up and then dive away, leaving wide vistas of Midtown and the Hudson River.

The lawn at 22nd Street, 4,900 square feet of newly laid sod, was placed along a wide section of the line that once accommodated an extra track. Stadium seating made from reclaimed teak is being built near it.

As the park heads up through West Chelsea, recession-slowed development can be seen creaking back to life. The High Line “has been a huge magnet for development,” said Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner. “It has turned into one of the great both local and international tourist destinations, beyond anyone’s expectations.”

Mr. Benepe said the second phase “has a much more intimate feel” than the first: it sidles, he noted, up to windows of residential buildings.

“It feels like a Venetian canal, compared to the southern part,” he said. “Like you’re walking through the set of ‘Rear Window.’ ”

Total cost for the second phase is $67 million, compared to $86 million for the first phase, said Len Greco, an official with the city Economic Development Corporation, which is managing the construction along with the Parks Department and Friends of the High Line. The money comes from city, state, federal and private sources.

At 28th Street, the path passes a large scrap metal yard on the west side, and on the east side further along, an exhaust duct from an auto garage below that paints taxicabs.

The north end of Phase 2 suggests the next and final phase. Near 29th Street, long curving benches lining the walkway offer views of Midtown sprawl, the river and a large parking lot.

Back at 20th Street, the group stopped at a viewing station that will allow users to sit on benches and look westward through a big rectangular frame that recalls the billboards that once hung on the train line structure.

It overlooks 10th Avenue, an auto repair shop and a public housing complex. To the west is a block with art galleries. An access stairway was put here partly to welcome park users from a wide demographic, Mr. Mullan said.

“The High Line is the thread between all that,” he said.