Project Gives Forgotten NYC Rail Line New, Lush Life In New York City, construction has begun on one of the most unusual and innovative parks in the nation. The High Line project will transform an abandoned railroad overpass that spans 22 blocks on Manhattan's West Side into an urban promenade of green parkland.
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Project Gives Forgotten NYC Rail Line New, Lush Life

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Project Gives Forgotten NYC Rail Line New, Lush Life

Project Gives Forgotten NYC Rail Line New, Lush Life

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: You could pass under the High Line railroad track a thousand times and never notice its unique beauty. On 14th Street and 10th Avenue, I point it out to John Leary, a truck driver who works around here.

JOHN LEARY: It's a mess. It's all garbage and overgrown with weeds, and the tracks are all rusty, and it needs a lot of work.

SMITH: Ah, but what he doesn't know is that, at this moment, 30 feet above our heads, are Congressmen, Senators, movie stars and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are breaking ground on New York's newest park.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: This was an opportunity to take, which was, in all fairness, an eyesore, and turn it into something more visionary, something with potential, transforming a decaying rail line into a lush band of green. This is going to be a magical experience for everybody.

SMITH: At today's groundbreaking, every politician stepped forward to take some sort of credit for creating this new park, but the reality is the city was very close to condemning and tearing down this structure. It took two community activists to save it.

JOSHUA DAVID: I'm Joshua David.

ROBERT HAMMOND: I'm Robert Hammond.

DAVID: With Friends of the High Line.

SMITH: Seven years ago, David and Hammond lived in this west-side industrial neighborhood and developed a fondness for the rusting overpass. When they found out it was doomed, they began lobbying and organizing.

HAMMOND: You know, Josh and I had no experience in any of this, and you just need to raise the flag and other people will come behind it to get it done.

SMITH: The Friends of the High Line Organization encouraged the city to purchase the abandoned rail line and hosted a design competition to come up with a final look for the park.

DAVID: There'll be this incredible walkway system that allows plants to come up through the planking and creates this very soft kind of path, so it's going to be a really serene, green place where people can escape the hustle of the city and enjoy New York from a really unique perspective.

SMITH: But that vision is still a couple of years away. The total cost for the park is expected to be $130 million. Construction workers have begun shoring up this old, rusting structure and tearing out the rails. Richard Flamiat (ph) and Joseph Biglioni (ph) have been spending their days up here doing the reconstruction, and they say they can already see how great this park will be.

RICHARD FLAMIAT: Very nice up here. It's gorgeous. You got some views. You have views of the river. You can see the Statue of Liberty.

SMITH: So how is this thing built? Is it going to withstand another hundred years?

JOSEPH BIGLIONI: Oh, yeah. It'll last longer than that.

FLAMIAT: A lot longer than both of us. This thing's built very well.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

NORRIS: You can see images of the High Line Park's proposed design at our web site, NPR.org.

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