High Line Park: An Abandoned Rail Line Becomes a Promenade in the Air

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AP

A different kind of park opens Tuesday in New York City. The High Line is on top of an old elevated railroad trestle that runs up the West Side of Manhattan. When complete, the park will occupy the 1.5 miles that the rail line used.

Thirty feet above the old Meatpacking District, it's a different world from the street below. On the narrow iron structure, there is now a park promenade that winds its way through wildflowers and remnants of the old railroad tracks.

"It's open. It's airy," said Sam and Rachel Tannenbaum, who were there to explore. They said it's like an urban jungle looking out over a meatpacking plant.

The elevated railroad was built in the 1930s to serve the industrial neighborhood. The park follows the same path — over streets and even tunneling through buildings.

"Trains used to come barreling down right where we're standing," said Robert Hammond, who lived in the neighborhood and co-founded Friends of the High Line. The rusting trestle was slated for demolition 10 years ago.

"It took a lot of lawsuits, a lot of lawyers," Hammond said.

Eventually the city got on board and came up with most of the $150 million to build the park. The expensive part was removing the lead paint and making the iron structure safe. The park design itself was fairly simple: concrete, wildflowers and rusted metal.

The city allowed some people up in the park for Monday's test run.

"They're walking with the same pace that people walk through a museum," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said, "because they are in a place they've never been before, which is floating above the ground 30 feet in the sky."

Even before High Line opened, 33 new projects began construction in the West Side neighborhood, including hotels, condos and offices.

"We've thought for a long time that there's a great added value for having parks that goes well beyond what the investment is," Benepe said. "This is the proof right here."

That is the encouragement the city needs to extend the High Line even farther. There's still a mile of the railroad trestle that hasn't been converted to a park yet, but there are plans.

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