High Line park on disused railway in New York opens second section
Elevated freight railway conversion has attracted an estimated $2bn in private money to the Meatpacking District
* Ed Pilkington in New York
*guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 June 2011 19.48 BST
When the elevated freight railway that runs above the west side of Manhattan was built between 1929 and 1934 it became known as the "lifeline of New York" – a gritty industrial artery carrying carcasses into the literally named Meatpacking district.
Eighty years later this stretch of steel and gravel on stilts has become a lifeline of the city all over again, except this time the carcasses that trundle along it are alive, and human. The second phase of the High Line, the railway turned into a city park, has just opened, doubling its length and quadrupling the joy of this very modern public space.
The full length of the High Line now runs from Gansevoort Street in the south to 30th Street in the north. For a railway that came close to being torn down in 1999 when local businesses – backed by the then mayor Rudy Giuliani – denounced it as a blot on the landscape, it has come to be one of the most resounding examples of a city's rebirth.
The new section, beginning at 20th Street, includes the first stretch of lawn on the High Line. "Grass to lie on in New York city with no animal products to deal with [dogs are not allowed in the park] – are you kidding me?" said local resident Susan Hamburger who was out for her morning jog: "This is an incredible resource away from the city traffic."
Another attraction of the new phase is the "Falcone flyover", a raised portion above the raised railway that allows visitors to look down on green areas landscaped to replicated wooded hillocks. The High Line has been planted with 210 species of trees, shrubs and grasses selected for their native relevance and hardiness.
Already, the two-year-old southern portion is a riot of vegetation in greens and muted purples. The flourishing of the plant life is like a metaphor for what the High Line has done to the neighbourhood as a whole, which has exploded economically since the park opened.
For an investment of just $115m (£70m) to convert the rusty tracks of the railway into an elegant walkway, the city authorities have attracted an estimated $2bn in private money to the neighbourhood.
As far as 28th street the railway is now lined with gleaming structures in polished steel and turquoise green glass as hotels, residential property developers and high-end fashion retailers have piled into the area. The flanks of the park have been dubbed "architects' row" in recognition of the new buildings that have sprung up by internationally-renowned designers such as Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Neil Denari.
More development is certain to spread north as the economic ripple effect continues. By 30th street the High Line is surrounded by what remains a wasteland of empty warehouses and dusty parking lots, but already the cranes are busy laying the foundations of new buildings.
In 2015 the area will receive a further shot in the arm when the Whitney will open its new lower Manhattan museum at the southern end of the High Line, rounding off an extraordinary transformation from urban decay to post-industrial renovation.