The Most Unlikely of Dreams


The last train ran on the High Line in 1980, reportedly pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys. With the end of train traffic, a self-seeded landscape began to grow among the gravel ballast and steel rails atop the out-of-use structure. Grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs took root and slowly took over the High Line.” — from High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky

In the 1930’s, an elevated railroad spur was built on Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line allowed for the efficient and safe transport of freight, without disturbing the street traffic below. But, with the growth of interstate trucking in the 1950’s, the High Line declined, and nature slowly took over.

This derelict structure was soon seen as an eye-sore and blight upon the neighborhood. In 1999, with demolition looming, Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed the Friends of the High Line. They imagined something different — a Park in the Sky:

park & yellow cabs

When we started we knew very little about preservation, architecture, community organizing, horticulture, fundraising, working with City Hall, or running a park.
Our lack of expertise was a key to the High Line’s success. It forced us to ask other people to help us. It was these others, who rallied around us, guided us, and did the work we did not know how to do, who made the High Line possible
.” — from High Line

This unlikely urban tale is wonderfully captured in Joshua David and Robert Hammond’s High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky — a personal memoir of how High Line came back to life as one of the most innovative urban parks in the country.

For more, here’s an inspiring 4-minute film clip on the improbable history of the High Line!

The other day, walking to work on the High Line, I felt like I was in some kind of Dr. Suess garden as I went past the foxtail lilies, with their tall yellow plumes; the serviceberry trees, full of edible berries, and the smoke bushes, with their feathery puffs tossing in the wind. I know the names of these particular plants, but I don’t know the names of most of the plants. It’s not about the individual plants — it’s the overall effect. Some people think of parks as being an escape from the city, but the High Line works because it never takes you away from New York. You are not in a botanical garden. You can hear horns honking. You can see traffic and taxis. It’s knitted into the city. And you’re not alone. You’re walking up there with other New Yorkers.” — Robert Hammond, from High Line

people on the high line

We were inspired by others, and I hope the High Line will encourage people to pursue all sorts of crazy projects, even if they seem, like the High Line once did, the most unlikely of dreams.” — Robert Hammond, from High Line

For more on the High Line, be sure to visit the Friends of the High Line website!


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