Monday, December 16, 2013

Walking the Line

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend four days in Manhattan.  It was my second time there, so I had some ideas of things I wanted to do and see.  I was traveling with work colleagues, and we always have the goal of doing as much as possible without causing undue pain or bodily harm, considering the fact that we are mature adults who recognize the body’s need for sleep and moderation in the consumption of both caffeine and alcohol.
Walking above the city streets

We generally walk everywhere, and I think that’s the best way to experience a city.  In addition to the sights, you get the sounds, smells, and even, in New York, the tactile sensation of the crowds bumping and pressing against you.  Walking in Times Square becomes a ballet of twists and turns, dodging and ducking to avoid collisions.  We spent half a day at the Museum of Modern Art, ate breakfast at the Russian Tea Room, attended two Broadway plays, and toured Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace.   On the last full day there, we climbed 30 feet in the air and walked on the High Line. That was the one thing left on my list of places to see on this trip.

The High Line is a public park located on an elevated railroad line that was built between 1929 and 1934 on the West Side of Manhattan between 10th and 11th Avenues, now running from West 34th Street to Gansevoort Street in the Meat Packing District.  The tracks were elevated to reduce the train-traffic accidents that had given 10th Ave. the nickname, “Death Avenue”.  The High Line was last used as by trains in 1980 and then stood abandoned for almost twenty years. Property owners in the area lobbied to have the tracks torn down, but in 1999, community residents organized to have the area converted into a park.  Friends of the Highline is now a non-profit conservancy which maintains and operates the park. If you go to their website at you can see many more (and better) photos of the park.  

On a sunny November morning, we walked about one mile surrounded by over 300 varieties of flowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses.  The views of the city buildings, parks, and local landmarks were spectacular.  In the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities, the Highline is an oasis of beauty and peace.  

View of a tiny Statue of Liberty in the distance
It’s remarkable when someone has the vision to see the potential for beauty something that many would consider a derelict eyesore. Urban parks and green spaces offer both physical and psychological benefits to city dwellers. Frances Kuo of the University of Illinois conducted a study of 28 identical high-rise public housing projects. She found that people living near green spaces had a stronger sense of community, coped better with everyday stress and hardship, were less aggressive and less violent, performed better on tests of concentration, and managed problems more effectively.

The Highline is a wonderful example of reusing a space in a way that sustains all of us.