The Bottom Line on the High Line


“If the future is going to be greener, then it must be more urban. Dense cities offer a means of living that involves less driving and smaller homes to heat and cool. Maybe someday we’ll be able to drive and cool our homes with almost no carbon emissions, but until then, there is nothing greener than blacktop.” -Edward Glaser, Triumph of the City

March 31, 2012, New York: I recently read both Edward Glaser's Triumph of the City and David Owen's Green Metropolis. They both make the case that city living is a wise environmental choice -- both argue that city dwellers tendencies to live small, walk more, and reuse spaces we already occupy rival choices to head for the hills in order to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Still, city dwellers yearn for the green spaces and breaths of fresh air so readily available out there in our natural landscapes. Lucky for them, there are more and more efforts to bring the outdoors in to the urban equation.

I think about these initiatives this afternoon as we make our first visit to Manhattan's massive recycling project known as the High Line.

Since opening in 2009, the public park built on the old elevated railroad tracks along Manhattan's West Side has continued to expand north along Tenth Ave. As a college student in Manhattan, this space did not yet exist; it was only a glimmer in the eyes of visionary New Yorkers invested in this part of the city. As the park plan moved along and the tracks began to morph into something new, the changes on the High Line mirrored the transformation taking shape in the Meatpacking District below. Today the cobblestone streets of this industrial neighborhood are home to galleries and fashion houses and modern city lofts. Instead of demolishing these tracks, this city reused them, creating a unique public space that is making a distinct mark on this place and others throughout the world.

My point is not that the High Line will solve our environmental problems because the vast majority of plant species in this new green space are native to New York. It's that the High Line is an example of how we can reuse our spaces instead of venturing out and constructing something new. Whether or not you have any interest in the transformation of urban spaces, the High Line is a delightful addition to this city, a happy place on a cold, grey afternoon. Here in its industrial environs, it is a breath of fresh air. The bottom line is that a walk on the High Line has us thinking bigger. It is evidence of the power of transformation.