On the High Line, By Annik La Farge

Green islands of calm planted across the city that never sleeps

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Due to the population density of their high-rise metropolis, New Yorkers place immense importance on parks.

Known as the High Line, the latest addition is one of the most imaginative in the world. A disused elevated railway that snakes for almost 1.5 miles on the west side of Lower Manhattan has been converted to recreational use with care and panache.

Annik La Farge's colourful exploration reveals details of this impressive achievement, such as the profusion of benches (one runs for an entire block between 29th and 30th Streets), along with the intriguing variety of architecture that lines the serpentine park.

The area's startling gentrification is exemplified by the John Williams Bronze and Iron Works on 26th Street, now home to the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Company. The meat-packing district around 12th Street has become Fashion Central, overlooked by the "Diamond in the Sky" private penthouse of Diane von Furstenberg. A sign advertising Frozen Tripe and Beef Livers indicates a last foothold of the sanguinary trade. Nearby, the park-straddling Standard Hotel is "the first modern building conceived specifically with the High Line in mind", though La Farge admits it is "perhaps most notorious for the naked frolicking that some guests enjoy without benefit of window curtains."

Other eye-catching structures range from a concertina-like glass box by Frank Gehry and the new Whitney Museum of Art due to open in 2015 (a more restrained effort from Shard maestro Renzo Piano) to the Bayview Correctional Facility for women, embellished with fine Art Deco detail, and the London Terrace Apartments, a vast Thirties block as far from London architecture as can be imagined, though it once boasted a "daily changing of the guard" and doormen decked out in London police uniforms.

In its ingenious tiered planting and crafted pavements, the High Line is an object lesson of what a modern park should be. Though central London has no equivalent of the redundant High Line, there are 42 verdant acres that remain utterly empty aside from three days a year. Why can't we have our own Low Line in Buckingham Palace Gardens?