New York City’s High Line is one of those green urban renewal projects (see my post on the proposed Governor’s Island eco-park revamp) that when you see the design renderings you might think: “this will never happen; too audacious; too ambitious; too grandiose.” Well, today it happened. Phase 1 of the High Line park is now open to the public (in limited numbers).

The High Line, a derelict — built in 1930 and discontinued in 1980 — stretch of elevated railway spanning 1.5 miles on Manhattan’s west side, has long been the pet project of advocacy groups wanting to transform the lead-paint encrusted eyesore of a structure into green, open public space. In 2004, prolific architecture firm Diller + Scofidio + Renfro (the firm behind the mentioned Governor's Island revamp) was selected for the overall design revamp of the High Line while James Corner Field Operations was chosen to work landscape magic.

The High Line wasn’t just torn down in order to make way for a park. The original rail tracks, debris, and other elements were painstakingly removed so structural repairs (including removing all of that toxic lead paint) could be performed. Then, much of it was brought back so much of it could be reincorporated into the renovation.

The planting process that took place at the High Line isn’t too dissimilar to how green roofs are constructed. However, imagine something much more grand in scale: over 210 different plant species of trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials have been planted as part of the High Line's Phase 1; many of them native to the region and hearty in nature. A section of the park, the Gansevoort Woodland, is dense and shaded while another section, the Washington Grasslands, is more meadow-like in nature. More grasslands, woodlands, a thicket, a wildflower field, and the park's only lawn will be included as part of Phase II, expected to reach completion next year.

Of course, it’s not a proper park without benches. The “peel-up” benches scattered around the High Line are stunners made from FSC-certified wood and I'm guessing that the wooden chaise lounges with wheels secured to the rail tracks in the Sundeck area of the park are going to be quite popular as well. The lighting around the concrete plank pathways is provided by energy-efficient LEDs.

I can’t wait to visit myself but I’m gonna wait a spell for the crowds to thin down. I’ve given myself a sneak preview with the video below. I suggest the curious — in NYC and elsewhere — do the same. Also keep up-to-date at the official High Line blog and at Curbed and check out coverage The New York Times.

Images: Friends of the High Line

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Walk the (High) Line
Ten years in the making, NYC's High Line — an abandoned elevated railway viaduct — officially reopens today as a stunning greenspace.