Part 3: The vision

While it was clear the remnants of the historic High Line couldn’t be used to run trains, what it could be used for wasn’t as clear.

“One of the first things CSX did was commission a study [by the Regional Plan Association] on what do about the High Line,” says Laurie Izes, CSX project manager.

Possible uses of the structure and rights-of-way included parking decks and rolling billboards, recalls Crosby. Also among the possible ideas for the High Line was rail banking – a consensual agreement granting communities right-of-way for rail lines no longer in use. Enrolling the viaduct in the federal “Rails to Trails” program through rail banking, could allow the transformation of the High Line into the city’s most unique park. It was that possibility that captured the imaginations of Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who just happened to be sitting next to each other at the public hearing in which CSX executives presented the study. David and Hammond established Friends of the High Line and a movement was born.

“It was really Friends of the High Line that got the ball going on this and started to create the drama and enthusiasm for this public park,” recalls Pete Shudtz, vice president of federal regulation and general counsel for CSX.

Just as the paintings of Thomas Moran inspired a nation to preserve Yellowstone National Park, the photographs of Joel Sternfeld convinced many New Yorkers the High Line was worth saving.

“One of the single most important things that happened to save the High Line in the very early days was when CSX made it possible for Joel Sternfeld’s project to photograph the High Line,” says David. “They basically made it possible for the world to see what was on top of the High Line.”

What the world saw was a long, narrow wild flower meadow winding above the congested streets of the West Side. They saw something you’ll find nowhere else — something worth saving.

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The story of New York’s High Line (part 2 of 5): The challenges
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The story of New York’s High Line (part 4 of 5): The plan
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Improbable Journey: The story of New York’s High Line

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Transcript

S1: One of the first things that CSX did was commission a study, on what to do about High Line for the Regional Plan Association.

S2: We listened to others who had ideas on how this property might be utilized, everything from a horizontal parking lot, to a rolling billboard.

S1: One of the possible solutions that came out of that report, was rail banking.

S3: Well, rail banking is the idea that when lines of railroad becomes no longer useful for freight usage, interested parties and the communities, governmental agencies, can work out a consensual arrangement with the freight railroad, to reuse the right of way for a trail or other park-like purposes.

S4: I live in the West Village, I know I've seen the High Line, but really didn't give it that much thought. Then I read an article in the New York Times, that it was going to be demolished.

Robert: So in that newspaper article, CSX mentioned the openness to the idea of doing some kind of park proposal on the High Line.

S4: I went to my first community board meeting, where I heard CSX was presenting a study that they had commissioned from the RPA, about different uses. I sat next to Robert.

Robert: Coincidentally.

S4: The discussion about the High Line began. CSX, basically said they were looking at all different kinds of options, but most people in the room, either didn't care at all or really wanted to tear it down.

Robert: Then we began to look at how could we build an organization, with a mission of preserving the structure, and figuring out an exciting way to reuse it.

S4: We realized we were the only two people really interested in it, so we exchanged business cards and that's how we started Friends of the High Line.

Robert: We went and approached CSX about the idea.

S2: It was really through the Friends of the High Line, who got the ball going on this, and started to create the drama and the enthusiasm for this public park.

Robert: One of the single most important things that happened to save the High Line, in the very early days was when CSX made it possible for Joel Sternfeld's project to photograph the High Line. They basically made it possible, for the world to see what was on top of the High Line.

S4: When you got up there there was a mile and a half of wildflowers running right through the middle of Manhattan with views of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty and that's really when I fell in love with it. It's so spectacular. It's so unusual, that you couldn't let go after that.