I’ve travelled a lot in the last few years – at one point last year I think I’d been in 12 different countries in just over 12 months – and one of my most exciting trips was a (too) brief visit to New York City. I had just four days to fit in in as exhaustive an experience of this iconic city as I had the energy for, with my dear (and seemingly tireless) friend Isabelle who flew all the way from California to be my guide and keep me company.
Choosing what to see and what to miss out was an agonising process, but with limited time we had to choose carefully, always making sure we ensured adequate time for quite a lot of eating. To justify this, and because this is such great city to walk in, we made sure we spent plenty of time on our feet. One of the best ways to get some exercise and some great views of this amazing city, but surrounded by lush gardens, is to pay a visit to the ingenious High Line, a linear park established on a disused railroad spur.
I first read of the High Line Park last year after Mel Kettle of The Cook’s Notebook wrote about her visit there. At the time she walked it, it was one mile long and deserted, but the day we visited the ribbon was being cut on the final extension to the park, making it now 1.45 miles long and – possibly in part due to the ribbon-cutting ceremony – extremely crowded.
The project began in 1999 when the Friends of the High Line was formed to fight to prevent the demolition of the line and the scheme is now hailed as a model of urban redevelopment. The park attracts close to 5 million visitors each year, both locals and tourists, and has inspired similar projects in Paris and Mexico City.
The park is full of an astonishing variety of plants, including quite large trees which frame views of this remarkable city. Almost half of the High Line’s plants are native species and many of the plantings are inspired by the naturally occurring, self-seeded landscape which existed on the disused tracks, with many of the plants produced by local growers.
Apparently the crowds present on the day we visited were not all that unusual and the park has a busy schedule of activities including concerts, artistic commissions, tai chi groups, meditation classes, poetry walks, art workshops, children’s activities, gardening groups and much more. This extraordinary project has taken a dilapidated and disused stretch of ugly railway line and converted it to a sensational and much-loved community asset which has enriched local areas – and local property owners as the neighbourhood becomes gentrified, but that’s another story.