New Yorkers of all stripes are living the high life — and least when they stroll the High Line, a one-of-a-kind public park built on an elevated section of a historic railroad spur on the West side of Manhattan. Last year alone, an estimated 7.8 million people visited the world-renowned landmark, which offers scenic overlooks, a sundeck, a two-block-long miniature forest and public art installations.
The park was made possible by CSX Transportation, which donated the property it sits on to the city of New York. The railroad was one of the lead sponsors of the Friends of the High Line spring benefit that took place on May 15.
The benefit honored several key supporters of the park: Michael and Deborah McCarthy, who helped bring the PBS special “ Elevated Thinking: The High Line” to life and attract international attention to the project; neighborhood hotel The Standard, High Line, which in addition to offering its own patronage created a guest contribution program; and Ellen Fitzsimmons, CSX Transportation’s executive vice president of law and public affairs, who sits on the Friends of the High Line board.
“CSX has been one of our most important partners,” said Robert Hammond, executive director of Friends of the High Line, which acts as the park’s caretaker and raises most of its annual budget. “Literally the park, the whole High Line as we know it, would not be
the High Line if it weren’t for CSX.”
Back in the 1999, Hammond, along with fellow local resident Joshua David, founded Friends of the High Line to advocate for the High Line's preservation and reuse as public open space. “There were a lot of people who wanted to tear it down, and CSX very easily could have not supported our efforts.”
But support it the railroad did. “We thought they had wonderful ideas and were eager to be part of it,” said Fitzsimmons.
Groundbreaking began in 2006. The three main sections of the park, each of which took more than two years to build, are now complete.
At the benefit, Fitzsimmons explained the park’s transformation. “This is a city with a lot of pressure. There’s no place more fabulous, but no place more pressed. And this is a place where everybody can come and be peaceful and breathe and see other people. It’s not commercial, and it’s beautiful. What greater gift can you have in an urban area?"
“Ultimately the High Line is a gift to our neighbors. It’s a wonderful, wonderful enhancement to the quality of life in this part of New York City.”
It’s also been an inspiration for other cities. Fitzsimmons further explained, “We’ve seen the High Line’s influence in just the Southeast alone in projects like the BeltLine around Atlanta. The High Line makes people consider new ways to connect people in urban centers through public spaces.”
New York City council member Corey Johnson said the park, more than a magnet for visitors to New York, is also “a resource for folks who live in local community.” It offers events such as dance classes, stargazing nights and guided meditation sessions.
“Not only have they made it a park,” said Fitzsimmons, “they’ve made it a venue, they’ve made it a community, they’ve made it an experience. It’s the art installations, it’s the events…it’s incredible."