The most interesting spaces have a good story that’s more than skin deep. The High Line is an overpass that was originally built in the 20th century so freight trains could transport meat & produce from the Meatpacking District around New York and beyond. Today, it’s a 2.3 km green walkway floating over Chelsea and the Meatpacking District in downtown Manhattan. It’s also one of my Top 10 Favourite Experiences in New York City.
The High Line is more than just a green space. It’s a wonderful way to see the Meatpacking & Chelsea from a new perspective and enjoy the walk through an art gallery in the sunshine. I love the varied architecture in New York and the High Line provides the perfect viewing platform of the city’s many shapes.
The best way to hold on to a city’s history as the times change is to transform spaces to meet modern demands. Ancient Greek temples survived in Rome if they were re-purposed (with a few additions) as churches. A place that people are still using has value, and a place with value gets preserved rather than demolished. The High Line was built for business, but it has survived because it has been re-purposed for leisure.
In 1900, there were more than 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants operating in the Meatpacking District. The trade relied on the freight trains and the adjacent Hudson River ports. When the shipping industry declined in the 1960s and as the interstate system was developed from the 1950s, the trucking industry grew and the need for freight trains decreased.
By 1980, the High Line ceased to be used as a railroad system. Nature began to reclaim the space, with weeds springing up between the tracks.
As the area’s businesses dried up or moved elsewhere, a neighbourhood full of empty warehouses and rarely-patrolled streets were left behind. The Meatpacking became a seedy area, synonymous with drugs & sex clubs, until the late 90s, when forward-thinking entrepreneurs, property developers and designers started moving in.
Diane Von Furstenburg was the major fashion designer to set up a flagship in the Meatpacking District, before it became the bars & boutiques mecca that it is today.
The High Line: From trash to treasure
In 1999 the High Line was in danger of demolition. Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed the Friends of the High Line, and successfully petitioned to have the High Line preserved, and transformed into a the green walkway that sees more than 6 million visitors per year!
The High Line went from an obsolete relic to one of New York City’s most popular free attractions. Dotted with art works, coffee & food stands and filled with greenery, it is part art gallery, park and meeting place.
We started at the Meatpacking End of the High Line, but if I did it again, I’d start at the other end in Chelsea. We started with a drink at Santina, the Italian Riviera-inspired bar underneath the end of the High Line in the Meatpacking District, but it would be a perfect way to end your walk. If I’d known how gorgeous Santina’s interior decoration is, I would have asked to sit inside!
Near the end of the High Line in the Meatpacking are plenty of street food stalls, bars & restaurants in the surrounding cobble-stoned streets, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Have you been to the High Line? What’s your favourite thing to do in New York City?