Three things became apparent the moment we landed in New York: the difference in scale, ranging between big and enormous; the cool and friendly nature of the people; and a sense of community, evident in all aspects of their daily life.
New Yorkers will lift you up if you stumble and fall (we’ve seen this happen frequently which struck me as rather odd considering Manhattan’s fairly even pavements as opposed to Brussels’ dangerously wobbly tiled ones). They will offer help if they spot you struggling to figure out the mysteries of New York Subway. They will talk to you on the train, offer inside information, tips on shortcuts and fastest routes. They know their East from their West (my inner compass is extremely inefficient) and their directions will be clear and to the point. They know their city and, more importantly, you sense that they care about it.
This strong sense of community and the conviction that one’s opinion matters, has helped shape not only peoples’ daily lives but formed the urban landscape of the entire city. Take for example the High Line, the elevated freight rail line that carried meat and fresh produce to factories and warehouses, from 1934 to 1980. Although when introduced it transformed the West Side by elevating rail traffic and providing a fast, safe and efficient freight service, if fell in disuse with the modernization of the highways and the growth of the trucking industry that inevitably followed.
A campaign for its demolition started soon by local land ownership interests with redevelopment aspirations. But some neighbours harbouring a vision thought differently, and in 1999, a group of local residents formed the ”Friends of the High Line”, aiming to preserve and use it as a public open space. By that time, a wild ecosystem had developed on and around the High Line but the careful planning, successful fund-raising and collaboration with designers (James Corner Field Operations), landscape architects (Diller Scofidio + Renfro – the multidisciplinary studio, another aspect of its work we enjoyed later in the Met), and experts in horticulture (Piet Oudolf) paid off and the wild urban jungle was tamed.
Today the High Line offers a mile-long walk, acts as a breathing space for just lazing about, reading or people watching; it is also an open-air art gallery (a useful ”art map” is available on the High Line website). It used to be a favourite among die-hard fitness crazy New Yorkers, but nowadays it tends to get crowded during peak hours, so I guess there has been a shift of fitness activities towards the Hudson River Park, nearby. But there are still some undeterred by the crowds:
– Those funny Europeans!… muttered the grumpy New Yorker, whose path was blocked by people busy photographing.
– Did he mean me? I wondered for a second as he hurried along and I went on clicking away…
The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. It is open daily from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm and is accessible through a number of access points. More info available here.
Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)
New York, 4th June 2014