The humidity in Midtown Manhattan, according to the local network weatherperson, is 100 percent, but it’s not raining. If we breathe too hard we’ll drown, I think.
But as far as I can tell, soggy air doesn’t seem to bother the New Yorkers who trek purposefully north and south on Park Avenue on this June morning. They cross against the lights; talk on cell phones; stare straight ahead. They stop only to buy hot dogs, kebobs or ice cream from food trucks parked in the crosswalks. Near collisions with taxis are taken in stride.
I’m on a mission myself. I have one day in New York City and I want to find the High Line, a new mile-long green belt that runs down Manhattan’s West Side. It’s also about three stories in the air. This elevated, out-of-service local rail line, thanks to public and private money, has been converted into a beautiful verdant space that takes visitors and residents to a quiet retreat above the urban hustle-bustle.
The High Line rail was built in the 1930s to eliminate dangerous trains from Manhattan streets, according to the website, thehighline.org. The tracks were closed in 1980, but two decades later, Friends of the High Line was formed to save the tracks from demolition.
Construction of the park began in 2006, with the southern half-mile, from Gansevoort Street north to West 20th Street, opening in June 2009. The northern half-mile, from West 20th Street north to West 30th Street, opened in mid-June.
I have coerced my husband, Jerry, and friend Dan Devine, a semi-retired financial planner who has taken the train in from Kingston, N.Y., to help me search for the High Line.
Jerry is the first to spot one of the newly constructed staircases. We climb three stories and emerge to find a narrow nirvana that looks welcoming even under cloudy skies and occasional cloudbursts. It offers a whole mile of artistic real estate that is a mix of plants, shrubs, flowers and multi-textured hardscape. Landscape designers have ingeniously planted so that there will be something in bloom from late January to mid-November.
“We were in the middle of the city but weren’t part of the activity below,” Dan observed later. “And I could see there was new construction along the High Line. That means more jobs, more economic activity, more attractive neighborhoods. I think this is a case where the money was well spent and will create a multiplier effect on economic activity in the area.”
We stroll south and are delighted by the bursts of color and intermittent seating that resembles works of art. We stop to chat with architect Jose Vidal, a New Yorker for 53 years who lives in Times Square.
“The original proposals for the High Line were so outrageous that I felt it would never happen,” he said. “Today I feel that the High Line is a great success because the idea is very simple, that of a linear garden above the city. My mother lives on 24th Street, and when I go to 14th to shop at the Chelsea Market, I take the scenic route to my mother’s apartment.”
The High Line also is wheelchair accessible, allowing Vidal to take his mother for walks.
“Everyone in NYC loves the High Line,” he adds. “It provides a few seconds of peace for an anxiety-filled New Yorker.”
We continue walking south and pass a shiny new water fountain. I push the button and — it speaks to me. Really. A man’s voice extols the virtues of good hydration, and when I tell Dan, he has to try it for himself — and more than once. It’s enough to send him into a soliloquy about the Big Apple.
“I can spend the day in the city and have expensive meals, great service and fine atmosphere,” he said, “or I could take the train to Grand Central, see the sights, enjoy, relax, dine on my PB&J and truly experience the city. The High Line is just another reason why I love New York.”
It’s time to head back to our hotel so we’ll be on time for a dinner engagement. I hate to leave the High Line. I take a last long look at the green mile and hope I’ll return someday.
For historical photos of the High Line, visit thehighline.org/galleries/images/tags/historical.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.