Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New High Line

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


EV Grieve said...

A lovely piece of writing, Jeremiah.

And are the duffers hitting golf balls up there somewhere?

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks. i think the golfers were coming to/from the chelsea piers. there were lots of them. it felt vaguely Floridian.

Anonymous said...

I planned to go this Thursday but probably not due to rain. Thanks for providing a preview. Does the Highline go through any buildings such as Chelsea Market.

Laura S.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to get back to NYC for a visit. The High Line always seemed so mysterious to me. A part of NY that was of decades ago, but still a reminder of how industrial it once was. It's like stepping back in history without leaving the present. Yet another different angle from which to view NYC.

Alex in NYC said...

What the hell would be "dangerous" about the natural meadow? People are so damn stupid.

I have mixed feelings about the project. I'm eager to check it out, but you perfectly captured my feelings about its former, wild incarnation. I have a few photographer friends who managed to find a way up there (and took some amazing pics), but I was never brave enough either. We're such wusses, JM!

Anyway, great piece.

Bowery Boogie said...

that view of all the glass from the high line is creepy!

Ken Mac said...

well done. Cant' wait to get up there. Hope you don't mind a plug, here's the pics I shot last july when much of the HL was still wild...and the span from 23rd to 34th still is apparently.


Jeremiah Moss said...

mixed feelings, for sure. it was cool to be up there, but i can't help to think of what was lost. sorry you never made it up either, alex.

ken, plug away. you were one of the intrepid few.

laura, the high line does go through a couple of buildings--one which is still being dismantled and rebuilt. but you only get a glimpse of the decay.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

I share your mixed feelings: On the one hand, it will be nice to visit the High Line without risking broken limbs in the ascent and descent. On the other, the sanitized version just won't be the same: from your account, it attracts those of us who remember it as an empty spot in a crowded city where the only other people one was likely to run into were fellow urban explorers, but it also attracts the perma-tourists, the ones who fear grit and non-landscaped nature.

I will wait to form a judgment about the "new" High Line until I visit it myself.

Melanie said...

Very interesting and great photos.

Anonymous said...

Bowery Boogie said...

that view of all the glass from the high line is creepy!

Yea, and the could-be views of all the ugly eyesore filthy decayed prior buildings would have been sooo pleasant.

I can't wait until the rest of the derelict filth is razed to make way for more stunning beautiful buildings which will add even more beauty to the highline.

The highline park is beautiful. I love it.

Anonymous said...

".....More stunning beautiful buildings...."

Wow. Something tells me you're a boring, lousy lay.

BrooksNYC said...

I love Rwordplay's comment (#18), over at Gothamist:

"....who exactly is insisting that the city treat itself like a woman addicted to plastic surgery?"


Anonymous said...

Wow. Something tells me you're a boring, lousy lay.


Something tells me you live in a dumpy old walk-up.

Anonymous said...

Hey, a new park is opened to public. Should be unequivocal yes, no? Not quite, it's complicated, you see. There are "mixed feelings." Because! It used to be an abandoned, admittedly cool place that only a tiny, tiny minority would ever see. And now, lots of people will be up there, so it sucks now, right? And, to make matters worse, there is nothing remotely suggestive of junkies and new york in the 70s. So, you get what we have here today. A blogger and his followers, pathologically unable to step out of their ideological blinders. It's so "nice" but there are golfers (eiw white person hobby) and it looks like florida. Sure it does. How about, it looks like some people who love in NYC who like to play golf in chealsea peers? Why does everyone have to be exactly like you?

Jeremiah Moss said...

"it sucks" is not at all what i said and does not at all indicate mixed feelings. the trouble with many people is they're incapable of tolerating or expressing ambivalence.

the real question for you, and others like yourself, is: why must everything be only one way?

mullagatwny said...

nice article, great blog. i work in the market, and have many reservations about the neighborhood trends and ridiculous shops. it will be interesting to check this all out. is it safe to assume that this highline park development project is better than, say, tearing the entire thing down (the original plan)?

RX said...

Walking beneath the looming slab that is Balazs' hotel is a bit creepy. I wanted to like this project, really. The weather was gloomy when I visited, so that didn't help. The view was lovely, walking along this well-manicured strip of iron, but it seemed to offer only one perspective: rising shards of glass and the inevitable erasing of a really lovely part of town, which all that construction portends. In the weeks to come I'll re-visit, but I don't think my initial impression will change much.