the wild west side of manhattan




It is hard to imagine that at some time, in Manhattan, there were trains running at street level.

In 1847 a rail track was built along the West Side. Men on horses went in front of the trains and waved a flag to warn all other traffic at every crossing. But to no avail. Accidents happened all too often. That’s why in 1934 the tracks were elevated.

The High Line was born.

Rather than running over the avenue, it pierced through buildings, making it much easier to load and unload all kinds of merchandise in every warehouse or factory the trains ran through.

From the 1950s onwards, trucks replaced trains as important means of transport. The High Line became redundant and a part of it was demolished. The very last train to run on the remaining part was in 1980.

The High Line was closed and forgotten.

Until the 1990s. A photographer, ignoring all the ‘No Trespassing’ signs, climbed the High Line. What he found was wilderness, an almost uncanny sight of how nature had reclaimed what was rightfully, and naturally, hers. In less than ten years, a green jungle had sprung up and claimed its space in the middle of the otherwise so concrete jungle. Flowers, shrubs and small trees had slowly taken over, turning the High Line into a long and natural hanging garden.

It was the beauty of this discovery that has saved the High Line from complete demolition. With the ongoing trend of bringing back green spaces into our cities, this was a unique opportunity not to miss out on.

In the last couple of years, two stretches of the renovated walkway have been opened to the public. And with overwhelming success. It offers splendid views of the city and a 1 mile (1.6km) long path to wander along, safely above all traffic.

Another half a mile is waiting to be restored and opened to the general public. It is the last section that still hasn’t been touched since the complete railway track system was shut down back in the 80s. This part of the High Line is a curve that embraces the Penn Station shunting yard.

The next years the whole block will be undergoing an extreme make-over, a project that is to alter New York’s skyline!

But in the meantime, this last patch of wilderness can be exceptionally visited. Sculptor Carol Bove is exhibiting seven of her works.  Guided visits are organized, but reservations have to be made in advance and the number of visitors is restricted. (see images of the artwork in my upcoming post)

Man is capable of beautiful things. Like the landscaping of the popular aerial greenway, part I and II. But the third part of the High Line proves that beautiful things can also happen when man does not interfere. When nature is allowed to grow, flourish and impress.

Plans are that the newest part will be kept as “natural” as possible. Let’s hope they will. If only to leave that bird’s nest we saw in peace!


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4 thoughts on “the wild west side of manhattan

  1. Lieve says:

    I hope to see it again one day, even after preservation!

  2. Adam Isler says:

    This is one of my favorite areas to spend time with a camera.

  3. Very nice to get a more intimate impression of the city. I love to come over and over again to your blog! Best from Berlin!

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