The High Line

Joel Sternfeld, 11th Avenue and 30th Street looking east, SpringJoel Sternfeld, 11th Avenue and 30th Street looking east, Spring


The High Line used to be one of NYC’s mysteries. When I lived in New York in the mid- to late-nineties, I’d often wonder about this stretch of disused elevated railway. So many famous photographs of New York feature street life in the shadows of the Second Avenue El; the High Line served as reminder of this older type of city landscape. Also, for much of the time I lived in New York, I slept with my head meters from another set of elevated tracks in West Harlem; the view from my window above my bathtub stretched north along the tracks, the Hudson River to the left, the George Washington Bridge framing the horizon. I loved the neighbourhood sheltered under the Henry Hudson Parkway and the elevated line: the meatpacking plants, the strip joints, the autobody shops, the community of fisherman clustered on the pier at the end of 125th Street. Sometimes the light filtering through the tracks would cast the street below in bamboo blind-like stripes of light and dark straight out of a Berenice Abbott photograph. 

I first thought about trespassing on the High Line when I read Lisa and Michael’s accounts of doing so. At the time, I thought I was up for it; took my camera, made my way to the on-ramp through the truck lot below the Javits Center. I loitered a bit. Thought about barbed-wire, about being lost, getting caught. I chickened out. It’s a regret, but not a huge one. I’ve looked at Joel Sternfeld’s photographs a lot over the years and have been very glad of them. I shuddered whilst reading reports of redevelopment proposals. But some of the things I’ve heard make it seem like it’s worked out. One is Bill Cunningham’s report. (If you don’t know Bill Cunningham, read this.) I’m not overly interested in clothes, but I love his On The Street reports, his enthusiasm, optimism, the way he says “maaaaarvellous.” He is ebullient most of the time, but he’s absolutely beside himself talking about the High Line: he sees the future of America in it. Visit if you can, and let me know what you think.


Hi C, I visited the High Line last week. Got some takeout from Whole Foods and ventured up with a bunch of Australians we ran into at…well, Whole Foods.

I’m glad they did something productive with the High Line instead of tearing it down, or worse, commercializing it. I think the rehabilitation lacks some interest though. I was expecting lushness, for some reason, or pieces of grass to sit on. Not so. It’s mostly a walkway, in the vein of a boardwalk. The tracks are not a main feature, and I thought they would highlight them more. The deck chairs are interesting, and plentiful, and even comfortable.

But yeah, I don’t know why I expected more nature up there, but I missed it. One thing that is super wonderful though, and so New York, is that the tenants of one of the apartments that looks onto the High Line have started up a “Renegade Cabaret” putting on impromptu shows for visitors to the tracks. I think that kind of adaptability will be what ultimately makes the endeavour worth the trip.

Posted by Elizabeth on 14 August 2009 @ 12am


i thought the high line story and his seasonal images very interesting by capturing a dilemma prob not unfamiliar to many big cities with outdated elements facing different options from all sorts of groups, all with positives and negatives. nothing is ever easy is it? i like how people near the abandoned tracks are finding ways to use it. i wondered if it’s suitable for making into an elevated walkway/park as done in some cities, esp in europe where elevated walls once kept intruders out and now are enjoyed by the public, etc. I enjoy your blog. best, jeannine/cottonjens (seattle)

Posted by jeannine on 6 September 2009 @ 4am

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