Photos courtesy Friends of the High Line
Flats of grasses and perennials await planting on the High Line between the reinstalled railroad tracks in the park’s Gansevoort Woodland section.
‘Park in sky’ chugging along toward June opening
By Katie Lorah
In just a few months, the first section of the High Line will open to the public. Section 1 of the park runs through the Meatpacking District and the southernmost blocks of Chelsea, from Gansevoort St. to 20th St. An exact opening date has yet to be set, but is likely to fall in early June. The second section, from 20th St. to 30th St., is projected to open one year later.
To get ready for the High Line’s debut, contractors are now putting the finishing touches on the park’s landscape, in the final stage of the landscape work that began more than a year ago. First, the construction crew installed the High Line’s pathways, made of long, smooth, concrete planks. The planks were designed to taper at their ends to allow the plantings to push up between them, just as grass grew up in the gravel ballast of the original High Line rail bed. Many of the High Line’s original steel railroad tracks have been returned to their locations, integrated into the planting beds. The beds themselves were then prepared, using a layered system much like a typical green roof. Several layers of specialized material — a perforated drainage mat, pea gravel and filter fabric, were installed to aid in soil drainage. Two layers of soil — a coarse subsoil and a nutrient-rich topsoil — were then delivered and spread into the planting beds. At the same time, lighting, irrigation and rodent-proofing systems were installed.
Last fall, a team of landscape specialists began working to bring the High Line’s planting beds to life, as envisioned by planting designer Piet Oudolf. Since then, the one-of-a-kind landscape has taken shape block by block. With the help of landscape contracting company Siteworks, the Section 1 environment of hardy perennials, textural grasses, shrubs and trees has taken root on the High Line. There are roughly 210 different plant species in the beds of Section 1, ranging from a meadow-like mix of asters, goldenrod and big bluestem grass in the low beds of the Sundeck, to a grove of gray birch and serviceberry trees as part of the Gansevoort Woodland.
Besides the planting work, several of the High Line’s special design features are nearing completion. The monumental “Slow Stairs” are now in place at the future High Line access point at Gansevoort St. This blocklong staircase rises from street level, underneath the High Line, to cut through the steel of the structure itself. Visitors will ascend along the staircase, coming face to face with the High Line’s heavy steel girders and hand-driven rivets, before emerging into the wild landscape above. With the adjacent site being planned as the new Whitney Museum, the southern terminus of the High Line is set to become one of the city’s liveliest new public spaces.
From above left, workers install foliage in between the High Line’s pathways; trees, with root balls wrapped in burlap, that will be planted in the park’s Gansevoort Woodland section; the newly installed, blocklong “Slow Stairs,” part of the Gansevoort St. access point, will bring visitors up through the structure itself.
At 17th St., large window-like cutouts were recently made in the steel of the High Line’s Tenth Avenue Square, one of Section 1’s most unique design features. Soon, glass will be installed, providing High Line visitors with a view up Tenth Ave., and a peek into the park to those walking below. Amphitheater-like seating, doubling as a ramp and staircase, will allow High Line visitors to drop down into the steel structure of the Square. In the coming weeks, work on the High Line’s access points, planting beds, pathways and seating will be completed.
While two-thirds of the High Line is owned by the city and is currently under construction to become a park, the future of the northernmost section, around the West Side Rail Yards, remains undecided. There is still a chance that this section could be partially or fully demolished, depending on a planning process now taking place between the city, the New York State-run M.T.A. and The Related Companies, the private developer leasing the site. The 26-acre rail yards site is the largest developable plot of land in Manhattan, and the current scheme calls for more than 12 million square feet of commercial and residential development, along with several acres of public open space.
Friends of the High Line, along with Community Board 4 and many elected officials, is advocating for the full preservation of the entire High Line at the rail yards, and its integration into the site. Friends of the High Line is encouraging the city to take ownership of this section of the High Line, much like it did with the rest of the High Line in 2005. To find out more about the High Line at the rail yards, and to learn how you can help save the entire High Line, please visit www.thehighline.org.
The opening of the first section of the High Line will be celebrated in June with a street festival, put on by Friends of the High Line. The festival will also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of Friends of the High Line, and the 75th anniversary of the High Line itself. (It was completed in 1934 to lift dangerous freight trains off the city’s streets.) There will be a variety of free public programming, both on and off the High Line, during the park’s inaugural summer.
More information about what’s planned for the opening season will be announced through Friends of the High Line’s e-mail newsletter. You can sign up to receive updates and information on how you can get involved at www.thehighline.org. You can also read the latest construction updates and announcements on the High Line Blog, www.thehighline.org/blog.
Lorah is media and project manager, Friends of the High Line