“Everyone in New York likes a park,” said Richard Levy, a fan and frequent walker of the High Line, a park located on the west side of Manhattan. And everyone especially likes one that’s elevated 30 feet in the air. “It’s nice to get away from the noise, even if just a little, you kind of feel like you’re above the chaos of the city,” Levy added.
“We saw in the High Line a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reclaim a piece of industrial infrastructure, and turn it into a truly unique public space,” said Katie Lorah in an email. Lorah serves as the deputy director of communications for Friends of the High Line – a group of residents in the Chelsea neighborhood who began an advocacy group in 1999 to preserve the park. “It had the potential to connect neighborhoods, to be a functional landscape, and to offer a new perspective on the surrounding built environment,” Lorah added.
The High Line was originally built in the 1930s as part of a massive infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement to lift freight traffic that was too dangerous for the streets of Manhattan.
In June 2009, Friends of the High Line got what they wanted.Section 1 of the High Line – Gansevoort St to 20th St – was opened to the public for all to enjoy between the hours of 7:00 am and 8:00 pm. These hours will last through the winter. Section 2 – 20th St to 30th St – is being worked on now and is set to open in 2010.
The High Line now serves as a park, a garden, an open forum for strolling and sipping coffee (a coffee stand is located at the half-way point), and oddly enough, a space in which artists can display their work.
The High Line runs through Chelsea – one of the world’s greatest art districts. The arts have been important to the restoration project since day one. Many residents in the area are artists or art dealers who have felt connected to the High Line project since the beginning.
“Our relationship with the art world is longstanding and was a natural fit,” said Lorah. Since the park’s opening, programs have been instilled and exhibitions have been displayed to broaden the public’s knowledge of smaller, contemporary artists.
The latest piece currently on view is by Valerie Hegarty, a sculptor whose installation on display is titled “Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches.” The piece – a tattered looking landscape on the fence that divides Section I and Section 2 – was installed in early November and is on view indefinitely.
Another artist, Spencer Finch, photographed the Hudson River 700 times from a boat deck, proceeded to mix and match the different images, and put them on an elongated pane of glass. This pane of glass runs in the loading dock located between 15th and 16th Streets, parallel to the Chelsea Market Building.
“It was always an aim to commission site-specific artwork for the park, to keep it a vibrant and ever-changing public space,” said Lorah when asked why these artists were chosen. “We saw something in them, they were artists concerned with the environment, and the city,” she added.
The art featured in the High Line isn’t screaming for attention – you can barely notice the pieces, in fact, unless you’re looking for them. Lorah said she was happy to hear this. Her and her colleagues understand that the space isn’t catering to just one exclusive group of people (not just strollers, coffee sippers, runners, or art lovers). So everything you see along the High Line – gardens, architecture, art – is understated and tasteful, so as not to stray too far from the original project – “1.5 miles of Manhattan that was just waiting to be used for something, and it seemed like it would be a shame to tear it down.” Alas, the High Line.