I don’t think that I have spent so much time somewhere with so little greenery for a long time. With the exception of Central Park, Manhattan is a remorseless mix of shades of grey and brown, with few open spaces. It is a vibrant and exciting place, but there is little respite from the noise and energy that come as part of the package. James Baldwin captured the essence of Manhattan well in his 1962 novel Another Country: “It was a city without oases, run entirely, insofar, at least, as human perception could tell, for money; and its citizens seemed to have lost entirely any sense of their right to renew themselves”. That made today’s visit to the High Line in Chelsea all the more welcome. I’ve written before about the importance of green places in cities (see “More things we’ve forgotten to remember and “A brief diversion to South Korea“) and the High Line fits into that same category of industrial heritage reimagined and reclaimed as a “green lung” for the local community.
The High Line was, originally, an elevated railway line in lower Manhattan that has been converted into a narrow public park winding its way from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea, offering views across Manhattan and over the Hudson River towards New Jersey. Alongside the path, patches of vegetation – various shades of formal horticulture and semi-wild / feral growths – poke through the old railway lines. If I lived in lower east Manhattan this would be the place where I would head for a jog, or just to wander alone with my thoughts for an hour, away from the hustling city around me.
Central Park, too, is a rather wonderful place but that is more established. The High Line shows the creativity of a new post-industrial generation, unlocking the potential of derelict and decaying infrastructure. I may have said this before, so excuse the repetition, but ecologists are often too focused on conservation of the remote and the rare whereas some of the most valuable actions we can perform is to bring some nature – not necessarily the finest or best – within the reach of everyone.