Book Reviews, Parks

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky by Joshua David and Robert Hammond

May 2, 2012

Few parks have captured the imagination of the public like New York City’s High Line.   Built upon a 1.45-mile-long abandoned elevated rail structure running from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side, the High Line has become the most famous new park in the City, attracting over 5 million visitors since the first phase opened in 2009.

Written by the High Line’s cofounders, High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, tells the improbable story of the park’s creation and astounding success.   Divided into two sections, the book contains a sixteen chapter narrative that follows in detail the planning, permitting, design and construction process from the project’s conception to the grand opening of the first section.  This is followed by almost two hundred pages of historic and contemporary color photographs and maps of the park.

While the book details in depth the complex public and political processes through which the park was created it is at its core a story about how a powerful vision is realized.  This vision, to transform an abandoned industrial rail line into a contemporary urban park that celebrates nature and allows people to experience the city in a completely new way, is never compromised and the “mundane aspects of everyday life” are carefully weighed as the design evolves.

The balance between vision and reality is revisited many times throughout the narrative as the project unfolds.  “Since when is being a dreamer a bad thing?” asks New York City Director of Planning Amanda Burden at one point in the process.  “This is a city that is built on dreams.  We should all be following dreams like this one.”

The self – seeded landscape and native plants that established themselves on the rail line during the twenty-five years it was abandoned inspire the romantic concept of a park that is in essence an urban garden. These plants were expertly woven into the final design by the team of James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf.  Over 210 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees, with a particular emphasis on year round interest, were planted. The commitment to horticulture is an integral part of the project and evidenced on the High Line’s website where plant lists, an overview of seasonal blooms and monthly plantings and an “ask the horticulturalist” feature is maintained.

The second phase of the High Line opened in June 2011 and a third section is in the planning stages. The project continues to serve as both an inspiration and a model for new ways of thinking about cities, infrastructure and landscape design.  While touching upon many topics of interest to those who seek to integrate landscape and horticulture into public open spaces High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky  also serves as an encouragement to committed community activists to never settle for something good when they can create something great.

For more information and to purchase the book visit the High Line’s website, www.thehighline.org.

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky by Joshua David and Robert Hammond (Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York, 2011).

The review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, February 2012.

Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved 

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