This evening in New York, guests will gather for the High Line’s annual Spring Benefit — the most important fundraising effort of the year for the city’s elevated park built on a disused railway, around 10m above Manhattan’s West Side.
In a town where residents regard themselves as difficult to impress, the scale of success the public park has experienced since it opened in June 2009 has been a warming surprise.
With over two million visitors last year – and a host of new developments already springing up along its route – it’s hard to believe that only phase one of the development is complete. In the next month, however, the length of the High Line park will double. Currently stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 20th Street, the extension will continue to West 30th Street, climbing over the galleries and restaurants of Chelsea and bringing a lofty park to a neighbourhood previously lacking in green space.
Originally built in the 1930s, the High Line carried freight trains above street level, passing through factories and warehouses, connecting Manhattan’s industrial centres. Almost 60 years later, and after nearly two decades lying dormant, local residents started the Friends of the High Line in 1999, a society to preserve the railway and return the space to public use.
The effect of the revitalised High Line on Manhattan’s skyline is apparent. Architect Jean Nouvel’s new condominium on 11th Avenue has sprung up alongside the park, and this month sees the groundbreaking for a 19,000 sq m building by Renzo Piano that will provide a second home for the Whitney Museum of American Art, scheduled for completion in 2015.
Now owned and operated by the city, the development of the park has inspired similar projects all over the country. Philadelphia is developing its Reading Viaduct into an elevated park and bike path, while a group has formed in Chicago to encourage the renovation of the Bloomingdale Trail, a park built on a former rail line that supporters say will also create an important transport link for cyclists.
But the High Line’s influence is global. Developers from Jerusalem, Singapore and Rotterdam have all visited the park to take inspiration back to their home cities. And the successful Mexican hotel brand, Grupo Habita, has aligned its first expansion into the foreign market with the new High Line extension.
Opening softly over the next couple of weeks, Hotel Americano on West 27th street is adjacent to the second phase of the High Line, a location key to hotel founder Carlos Couturier’s plan. “The High Line was always very important to the building,” he says. “Creating green areas and increasing pedestrian traffic adds value to a city, simply through preservation. I think that every city has its own potential High Line. New York has just set the example of how the future should look.”