Ever since I first saw the High Line in photos by Joel Sternfeld, I wanted to go up there. Yesterday, when the newly renovated High Line opened to the public, I got my chance. Of course, it wasn't the High Line I remembered from the photos.
That vanished High Line was an off-limits, untrammeled mystery hidden right above our heads. Weeds and wildflowers poked out between rusted railroad tracks. Ailanthus trees sprouted along crumbling, graffiti-covered train platforms. The High Line was a weird, green path cutting between the brick hulks of abandoned buildings. I longed to climb up through the locked gates, where only the brave dared to venture. But I wasn't brave enough to even try.
That was a decade ago. Today, the High Line is a tamed, manicured beauty. An elegant showpiece.
The crazy quilt of weeds, junk trees, and wildflowers that helped make the High Line so mysterious and otherwordly are all gone, and yet returned--in domesticated descendants of themselves. Before removal, they were harvested for their seeds, cultivated in a Staten Island nursery, and then placed with care and planning in the new park.
Signs along the path say the landscape is wild, but it's actually, according to the High Line Blog, "designed to recall the self-sown landscape that grew up on the High Line after the trains stopped running" with "over 7,500 native grasses and perennials" that peek up between hand-laid tracks and track-like slabs of poured concrete.
The new High Line is a simulacrum of the old. In its imitation of nature, it separates us from the natural. We're in Baudrillard's hyperreality territory here.
But in this elevated urban garden, people are not thinking so much about the difference between the real and the hyperreal. They sun themselves, text, talk on the phone. They carry golf clubs and push double-wide strollers. They rest next to piles of shopping bags, exhausted after hours of consuming. One or two read a book.
From way up here, in the rarified air, we gaze at the glazed backdrop of condos, hotels, and shop windows. Sometimes, it feels like a tour of CondoLand, as if the towers had come first and this new High Line was perfectly placed as a scenic viewpoint from which to admire them. Look at all the glass! Mountains and icebergs and glaciers of glass.
As if it were a giant roadside drive-thru tree, we stroll straight through Balasz's luxurious crotch.
Here and there, you'll find remains of the old Meatpacking District. A couple brick buildings are still inhabited. You pass a few cracked windows, some barbed wire, the crazy backside of Novac Noury's building, complete with a dessicated Statue of Liberty and collection of broken urinals. (But where is Noury with his spurting keyboard?)
It's not bad up there on the new High Line. It's very pleasant. Very nice.
I sat down on one of the many benches and enjoyed the view, the breeze, the summery fragrance of the vegetation, which smells like something wild if you close your eyes. And I overheard one young man say to his friend:
"This project was actually controversial. Some people wanted it to stay a natural meadow. But I'm glad they didn't. I mean, that would be dangerous."
See all my photos of the New High Line here
See Joel Sternfeld's photos of the old High Line here