Section 2 of High Line Soon Will Glow

Event: High Line Section 2 Community Input Forum
Location: Cedar Lake Theater, 10.23.07
Speakers: James Corner — Principal, Field Operations; Ricardo Scofidio, AIA — Principal, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; Robert Hammond — Co-Founder, Friends of the High Line
Organizers: Friends of the High Line (FHL); New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

High Line

Section 2 of the High Line will include everything from sumac trees to an open lawn.

Jessica Sheridan

The High Line is a rare civic-activism success story, and its progress, cheered by a devoted constituency well ahead of its opening, carries both the energy and the risks of high expectations. At the unveiling of new designs for the structure’s Section 2, between 20th and 30th Streets, Ricardo Scofidio, AIA, principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said that only six years ago “a former mayor of this city” signed orders for the High Line to be demolished. Its preservation as a public park — thanks to Robert Hammond, Joshua David, and the other Friends of the High Line (FHL), media-savviness and effective legal work, convincing photography by Joel Sternberg, a well-publicized design competition, and other key public officials — shows that propertied interests and the autocrats who serve them need not always prevail in land-use disputes.

Throughout, there’s an effort to respect what landscape architect James Corner, principal of Field Operations, called the “characteristics that people have come to love about the High Line: its wildness, its autonomy, its strange, found, melancholic properties.” Section 1, extending from Gansevoort to 20th Street, is under construction and scheduled to open in 2008 (see New High Line to Open in 2008, by Kathryn Carlson, e-OCULUS 10.02.07). The future of Section 2 is secure though it is unknown when work will begin, and the fate of Section 3 (the railyard from 30th to 34th Street, owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority) remains unresolved. The designs displayed at Cedar Lake Theater (unfortunately not yet ready for publication) will be worth the wait. Features include thickets of sumac trees and wild grasses, an open lawn near 23rd Street, and a ramp or “flyover” where visitors may stroll at treetop-canopy level. Plantings in the various areas are sequenced for variety.

As FHL morphs from an advocacy group to a conservancy that will manage the High Line in conjunction with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, the space is to remain public. Hammond deliberately debunked advertising-driven rumors of private access for residents of the area’s new luxury developments. Specific programming decisions favor sanctuary and relaxation: dogs will be welcome, but not rollerblades, and bicycles will have to stay at street level (in custom-designed bike storage). The lighting scheme will be a continuous, eerie glow. Access points, Corner explained, will be limited for crowd control.

The 1.45-mile stretch of planned wildness above the Meatpacking District and Chelsea is a beloved oxymoron. There’s enough buzz and mythology about the High Line to make huge crowds inevitable; the challenge now is to raise funds and manage the specific features that can sustain this site’s uniqueness beyond the point where its novelty fades.