If you go to the High Line

don’t expect to have it to yourself. Once upon a time if you happened to be passing through Chelsea you could wander up to the one and a half mile long park and the sensation would be one of openness, a respite from the claustrophobia that comes with living in a city with 8 million people. Now you need a timed pass to gain entry.

The guy in the Willie Wonka hat gave us a break though, letting us by like a couple of celebrities.

What first inspired a coalition of people to create the High Line–once the railway for provisions headed to lower Manhattan and making its way directly through some buildings as it went–was the realization that the railbed had become host to a veritable meadow in its years of disuse.

It also hosted junkies and hookers, needles and condoms, but the coalition was made up of visionaries. This part of town had had many lives. In earlier years, the 1920s, a different train had gone down 9th Avenue proper, killing so many pedestrians that cowboys were called in to warn people away from the tracks, waving red bandanas as a visual aid. For a time the area was known as Death Avenue.

Once the tracks were elevated, transit of foodstuffs was assured. Meat, especially, came down to Gansevoort street and the warren of warehouses that made up the meat market. The trains stopped running with the rise of trucking, ending in the ‘80s. When I first lived in New York during that decade I remember seeing beef carcasses hung in open bays and cobblestones slick with blood and lard.

There is little residue of that time today, though the rails remain.

The gardening team has created a gem that changes with the seasons.

Today, purple coneflowers dominated. The rails show through.

Since the High Line opened in 2009, the birches have grown up.

And some trees you wouldn’t imagine would flourish, like this big leaf magnolia.

Art is everywhere.

Though sometimes you have  to seek it out.

But what also has grown is the throng of new buildings that crowd the park on every side.

Some apartments are so close that you feel like a snoop just walking along.

In fact, when I first started going to the High Line it was rather famous for a glass building that housed sexual exhibitionists.

Many views are blocked, though you can still look straight down 23rd street, and if you happen to be in the right spot you can see the Hudson.

But the main thing you see is people.

It is a babble of foreign languages, with the High Line featured in guide books all over the world.

And everyone is marching along, phones held aloft for pictures (me included, obviously). It’s a place that is quintessentially urban, a crowd scene – but isn’t that why we visit New York City?

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