Putin and the High Line

by Annik on March 26, 2014

One doesn’t naturally associate Vladimir Putin with the High Line, but once upon a time he was a stakeholder here. Back in 2000 Lukoil, the giant Russian oil conglomerate, purchased Getty Oil and its 1,300 gas stations, including a small one on 24th Street and Tenth Avenue. Putin himself attended the grand opening, and it was widely reported that he enjoyed a Krispy Creme donut under the shadow of the still-abandoned High Line.

Lukoil gas station on 24th Street & Tenth Avenue, February 2012

Lukoil gas station on 24th Street & Tenth Avenue, February 2012

Ian Frazier, in his 2011 book Travels in Siberia, notes that the name Lukoil comes from the three petroleum fields the company operates in western Siberia: Langepaz, Urengoi and Kogalym. “Now when I want a whiff of distant Siberia,” Frazier wrote, “I just go to the nearest Lukoil and fill ‘er up.”

But no more; it turns out that Russian oil is no match for art in West Chelsea. In 2013 the Lukoil gas station closed and became an outdoor gallery. The image below shows the inaugural exhibition, “Sheep Station,” featuring the work — 25 epoxy stone and bronze “Moutons” — of late artist François-Xavier Lalanne.

Getty Station, 24th Street & Tenth Avenue, October 2013

Getty Station, 24th Street & Tenth Avenue, October 2013

Like virtually every other little patch of land along the High Line, this one has a story to tell, and its main theme is change. The first edition of On the Line included a short essay titled “Automobile Row,” which reported on the “high ratio of automobiles to humans” and the car-centric character of West Chelsea, which made it a particularly easy place to park, repair, gas up, wash, or purchase a luxury car. But commercial and residential development are rapidly re-writing the local landscape, and since the first edition came out most of the old car shops and garages are gone.  Perhaps the most telling example of change is the gas station that became an outdoor art gallery. “Automobile Row” was cut from the second edition of the book. Pretty soon Getty Station itself will yield to the unstoppable force of change, as it’s transformed into that other mainstay of the new High Line ‘hood: a “premiere collection of luxury residences.” E.g., a condo.

Meanwhile, as Putin rattles his sabre in Ukraine, it’s fun to imagine what he would make of all those sheep invading his Manhattan stronghold.

Related Link: Press release announcing inaugural exhibition at Getty Station, “Sheep Station”

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Change is Coming to the Winter Garden

by Annik on March 4, 2014

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Grasses and plants one week before the annual Spring Cutback [click an image to enlarge it]

We live in a city that is constantly changing, reinventing its streetscape and skyline every decade or so. The High Line is one of best places to experience and appreciate the pace of change in the city; it’s one long parapet that puts everything on display. If you walk from one from end to another you can watch the process noisily, sometimes dramatically, unfolding.

On Gansevoort Street, at the southern end of the park, the new Whitney Museum of American Art is slowly taking form, shedding its temporary external panels every few weeks to reveal expansive windows that promise abundant light and stunning Hudson River views. At the northern end, a whole new city is rising around the Rail Yards. The future headquarters of Coach is a work-in-progress that’s already looming over the park and eventually will straddle it, creating a tunnel along the spur at 30th Street. In between these two anchors — one cultural, one commercial — and on both sides of the High Line, construction sites abound: business and residential, retail and dining, even transportation: the new No. 7 line will have an entrance just under the park.

Every corner of the High Line these days is like the mezzanine of a good theater, and no matter where you go, you’ll encounter the sights, sounds, smells and vibrations of real estate development unfolding. It’s the oldest story in the New York City book.

Looking north from around 28th Street

Looking north from around 28th Street

But the High Line itself is about to undergo a big change: the annual, volunteer-powered haircut known as the Spring Cutback. This is one of my favorites moments of  the year, and this is the week to prepare yourself — to get the Before so you can really appreciate the After.

Walk through the park over the next few days and study the horticulture: the dying, stalky, crusted remains of last year’s blooms; the weeping, bleached grasses that are still encased in snow and ice. Beginning next week, an army of volunteers — the hearty High Liners, people of all ages and from every neighborhood around the city — will put on little blue pinnies and pick up a pair shears. By early April the park will be utterly transformed, and for a couple of months — until the flourishing grasses and plants burst from their ballast-strewn rail beds — you will see the the infrastructure of the old railroad emerge from the messy, cluttered garden.

Cutback is always the time we remember that this place was once a working railroad. As the plants are trimmed and the rails revealed, you can even see the names of the old lines stamped into the steel: Bethlehem, Baltimore & Ohio, Lackawanna.  But today it’s still a winter garden, and in all its splendid disorder it beautifully expresses Piet Oudolf’s fascination with the structure, color, texture and shape of plants and grasses as they pass through the cold months.

If you are intrigued by the notion of watching change happen, walking along the High Line over the next few weeks will give you a glorious front row seat.

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Looking south toward the Whitney Museum site

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Farewell, Paul VanMeter

by Annik on February 10, 2014

 

Paul VanMeter, September 2012, on the Reading Viaduct

Paul VanMeter, September 2012, on the Reading Viaduct

I first met Paul VanMeter on a rainy day in Philadelphia in 2011. Rick Darke, our great mutual friend, had organized a visit to the Reading Viaduct with the gardening staff of Friends of the High Line. With unabating enthusiasm Paul led us through the streets of Philadelphia, stopping every few blocks to whip out his iPad to show a photograph of the very same spot where we stood, a century ago. Swiping the glass screen he conjured image after image: the giant Baldwin Locomotive Works, old bicycle and balloon factories, and a sprawling machine works that once made the stuff that fired Paul’s railroad dreams: steam hammers, hydraulic parts, boiler makers’ tools.

Paul VanMeter on the Reading Viaduct, November 2011

Paul VanMeter on the Reading Viaduct, November 2011

Paul’s enthusiasm was infectious and he saw beauty everywhere, from the grand, classical architecture that lines Philadelphia’s museum district to the graffiti-covered railroad tunnels that run below it, almost completely out of sight. One day I met him for lunch at the Barnes Collection, and before we left the handsome new building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, he enthusiastically brought me to a particular spot, a floor-to-ceiling window where you could look out across a lush garden and see the skeleton of an old, rusting granary. He delighted in the juxtaposition of art and industry, horticulture and machinery, and here was a spot that fired his imagination mightily.

Paul was a landscaper, and therefore a planner, and he took profound pleasure in the crafted spaces and gardens he built. But he also loved the inchoate randomness of nature as it meets the city. On his website, in a piece called “The Natures of Nature,” he celebrated “places of abandon defined by the occurrence and development of wild spontaneous vegetation, starting with colonization of walls and cracks in paving leading to bold and impressive post-industrial urban meadows and woodlands.”

More revealing is the fact that the only words Paul chose for the “About” page on his blog is this quotation from Frederick Law Olmsted:

“I don’t object to cutting away of certain bramble patches if brambles are to take their place–or anything that will appear spontaneous & not need watering or care. More moving or dug ground I object to. Less wildness and disorder I object to.”

Before & After: The Philadelphia Inquirer Building

Before & After: A few blocks from the elevated section of the Reading Railroad

Paul’s great dream was ViaductGREENE, a three mile urban greenway to be built on infrastructure once used by the Reading Railroad and including almost two miles of long-abandoned tunnels and a glorious elevated section that would cut through several different Philadelphia neighborhoods: Chinatown towards the southern end, and an area settled by artists working in loft spaces just a bit farther north. Like the High Line, the viaduct offers stunning views of the Philadelphia skyline as well as intimate glimpses of everyday life in the streets below. Paul was indefatigable in advocating for this new park, which brought together the many forces that animated him: railroads, industrial history, gardens, art, culture, urban spaces, community. When this park opens, Paul’s spirit will inhabit ever corner of it.

Paul VanMeter and Ryan Gravel on the Reading Viaduct, September 2012

Paul VanMeter and Ryan Gravel on the Reading Viaduct, September 2012

As Rick Darke observed in his obituary, Paul had a “near-encyclopedic knowledge of trains, railroads, and their influence in shaping landscapes and communities.” He was also a magnificent storyteller who always looked for the narrative in the landscape. Once we were walking together along the High Line and I told Paul I was preparing a lecture for a group of high school students about the lighterage system, the complex network of barges — known as “lighters” — that floated goods across the Hudson River and delivered them to one of many terminal warehouses that lined the west side of Manhattan. I was having trouble wrapping my head around how the system worked, and how to describe it in a way that the students could relate to.

Paul pointed to the Starrett-Lehigh building and said “Tell them this: imagine you lived on the east coast at the turn of the last century and you needed a typewriter. You would pick up your Sears Roebuck catalog — the Amazon.com of the day — and place your order. Soon, your typewriter would be loaded onto a boxcar and carried by one of dozens of railroads — the FedEx of the day — until it reached the railroad’s terminal on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.  Chances are that boxcar — no doubt filled to the brim with hundreds of other items — would be floated across the Hudson on a barge pulled by a tugboat, then cross what is today the West Side Highway on a special set of tracks and disappear into the Starrett-Lehigh building. Once there it would be unloaded and re-shipped on another train to a depot near your home.” Paul made history come to life, and it especially delighted him to observe that a section of those tracks has been preserved, and today bisect the bike path of the Hudson River Greenway. “Tell the kids they can go see it for themselves.”

For Paul, this was the magic of “great, vital Places — capitalization intended.” By bringing cultural history into modern life they enrich us, spark our creativity, enhance our communities. This is why, in a 2012 piece about ViaductGREENE, I referred to Paul as “Professor of Place.”

The last time I saw Paul we were at another Friends of the High Line gathering: co-founder Robert Hammond’s farewell dance party in December. At the end of the evening Paul walked Rick, Ashby Leavell, another great friend, and me uptown, even though his car — which he had driven in from Reading, PA for Robert’s event — was parked a mile south. On top of everything he was a gentlemen; he walked me to the door of my apartment building, then turned around and retraced his steps before making the long drive home.

I am heartbroken he is gone, but outside my window is the place that connects us, one that inspired Paul’s most vivid railroad dreams.

Paul VanMeter on the High Line

Paul VanMeter on the High Line

[click any image to enlarge it.]

N.B. Throughout its long saga to create a world-class “park in the sky,” Friends of the High Line paid tribute to a man named Peter Obletz. He too died young, at age 50, long before the High Line opened. The author of the Times’ obituary, James Barron, called Obletz “the train buff’s train buff,” a phrase that could just as easily be applied to Paul VanMeter who, with his parents’ blessing, skipped his senior year of high school to travel across the country as a crewmember with the Bicentennial American Freedom Train. Obsessed with trains since he was a boy, in 1984 Peter Obletz paid Conrail ten dollars for the development rights to the abandoned High Line and dreamed of running historic parlor cars up and down the two-mile stretch for the benefit of tourists. For several years Obletz lived virtually underneath High Line in a 1940s-era Achison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Pullman dormitory — fitted out with bunks for sleeping — that he attached to an old dining car that had leather seats, stainless-steel walls, and Formica tables. Here, in the shadow the railroad he so loved — the same spot where today a whole new city is being constructed at the Hudson Rail Yards — Obletz entertained dinner guests on New York Central Railroad china and flatware. On the park’s official website Obletz is honored as “the High Line’s original friend,” and his name was engraved on a tablet in the 14th Street Passage.

Peter Obletz, photo © Peter Richards, and used with permission

Peter Obletz in his railroad car. Photo © Peter Richards, used with permission

When Philadelphia’s ViaducatGREENE — now known as the Rail Park – opens, my hope is that Paul VanMeter will get the recognition he deserves for a vision he so passionately, so brilliantly, and so generously put forward for a city he loved with all his heart.

But for now, let’s just think of Paul whenever we hear the mournful toot of the Amtrak. I went out for a walk on Saturday and the Ethan Allen Express, en route from Albany to Manhattan, obliged, just as it passed below my feet under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge near Hudson, New York.

This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.

Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express

Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express

 

 

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An Outlaw of Robins!

by Annik on February 6, 2014

An outlaw of robins on the High Line

An outlaw of robins on the High Line

For Shakespeare, the robin is a symbol of love. Speed, servant of Valentine in “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” notes that his master has of late been wandering around, his head in the clouds, relishing  “a love-song like a robin-redbreast.” Just a week before Valentine’s Day, the robins have stormed the wintry gates of Manhattan, and this morning they seemed downright gleeful on the High Line. And there were tons of them.

I combed the Internet for an accepted collective noun to describe a bunch of robins, but can find no such word. There’s an exaltation of larks, a parliament of owls, a flight of cormorants, a convocation of eagles, a murmuration of starlings, a tiding of magpies, a pitying of turtledoves, a kettle of hawks, a murder of crows. But the little robin doesn’t show up on any of the lists. So I’m coining a word myself, in honor of the man from Sherwood Forest and all the early trespassers on the High Line. If you visit the park today maybe you will have the great joy of seeing it yourself: an outlaw of robins.

But if you’re hopelessly stuck behind your desk, let me share a few of these marvelous harbingers of spring. They are cavorting in the trees, singing their heads off. Unlike so many of our fellow New Yorkers (particularly during Fashion Week) these fine, feathered friends don’t crave an audience, but perhaps (like an ostentation of peacocks) they will enjoy your appreciation just the same.
[As always, click to enlarge an image.]

Robins + London Terrace Apartments

Robins + London Terrace Apartments

Robins + Empire State Buildling: sittin' on top of the world

Robins + Empire State Buildling: sittin’ on top of the world

"to relish a love-song, like a robin-redbreast," Two Gentlemen of Verona

“to relish a love-song, like a robin-redbreast,” Two Gentlemen of Verona

 

The outlaw of robins sings a mighty chorus

The outlaw of robins sings a mighty, raucous chorus

 

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Welcome to the Time Machine

by Annik on February 5, 2014

General Theological Seminary

General Theological Seminary

The blast of winter early this week was the most beautiful of the year. The snow was dense and heavy, and unlike the powder of recent storms, it hung around for a few days. It attached itself to everything, even the stone cross on the roof of the Guardian Angel Church. Blanketing entire trees — trunks, branches, twigs — it had a wonderful effect of erasure: you could barely see the buildings or skyline through the thick lines of white that crisscrossed every view from the street. And unlike our many previous storms, this stuff stayed white much longer than the typical New York City snowfall. In a hellacious winter, this was our magical moment.

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[As always, click to enlarge an image.]

Walking past General Theological Seminary on Monday night you could almost imagine it was the 1820s. In a flicker of gaslight, perhaps that dark figure who just brushed past you was Clement Clark Moore himself, father of Chelsea who long ago donated his apple field to the Episcopal Church.

I crossed over Tenth Avenue — the Hudson River’s eastern edge in Moore’s day, now a slushy artery built on landfill — and up above me appeared a winter forest. Somewhere along that elevated expanse a High Line Ranger was gingerly walking along the path, making his final rounds to close up the park.

The High Line at 22nd Street

The High Line at 22nd Street

I know that because on Tuesday morning I joined the High Line’s snow team and spent a few hours hacking at ice and shoveling snow from the stairways. The park was an ice sheet from stem to stern, but along the path was a strange fossil record of the last person to walk through it the evening before. It must have been a beautiful, if slushy, stroll. Hours later, the park deserted, those boot prints hardened into ice, leaving proof of this person’s presence in an icy trail running from Gansevoort to 30th Street.

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Park Ranger’s icy boot print

The hard part of the clearing work was not the physical labor; it was staying focused on the job at hand in the midst of a perfectly stunning urban landscape, now covered in snow, which created an entirely new frame for the city beyond. Up there for just a few hours, it felt like time had stopped.

Chelsea Grasslands

Chelsea Grasslands

It was thrilling to see a robin, that handsome harbinger of spring. A gardener at Friends of the High Line told me robins started showing up in the park about a week ago.  This one sung a few notes, then just stood there, gazing at the city.

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Robin on the High Line

The Chelsea Thicket, always the quietest spot on the High Line, was particularly so this morning, with the park closed and a blanket of snow muffling every sound from the street.

The Chelsea Thicket

The Chelsea Thicket

All through the park, the shapes of trees were transformed and re-articulated by the thick, white snow.

Chelsea Grasslands, looking south from the Thicket

Chelsea Grasslands, looking south from the Thicket

I salute, with aching shoulders, the volunteer program of Friends of the High Line. On a cold winter morning they hand you a large orange shovel and a cup of hot cocoa, then send you up to one of the the most beautiful spots in Manhattan where, for just a bit of grunting and an icy toe or two, you can enjoy this unique, timeless, urban wilderness in almost perfect solitude.

The Tenth Avenue Square

The Tenth Avenue Square

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Jonas Wood, "Shelf Still Life," on the High Line

Jonas Wood, “Shelf Still Life,” on the High Line

This month’s installation on the 18th Street billboard is a perfect example of how a piece of public art can enliven and complement its environs. Jonas Wood’s “Shelf Still Life” has joined us in the midst of a bracing cold snap, and into this historic, arctic air sets before us a lovely view of plants in full bloom. It almost makes you want to unzip your jacket. These are house plants, so the work portrays an indoor scene, but as you walk by it the dead stalks of Compass plants and Prairie dock rise up to remind you that you’re in a real garden. The High Line is a place that’s filled with juxtapositions, and this work fits right in. It’s a playful seduction: colorful, blooming plants almost within reach, in the midst of a Polar Vortex.

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Jonas Wood, “Shelf Still Life,” billboard installation on Tenth Avenue at 18th Street

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Pace, Pete Seeger

Even on a day as sad as this, the Hudson River — your river, my river — rolls on. We are all forever grateful. It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations     hence, Just as you feel when […]

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Frozen Park in the Sky

This photo doesn’t show how bone-chillingly cold it was on the High Line today. It doesn’t show the million-mile-per-hour wind or the stinging sensation of thousands of snowflakes dive-bombing your eyeballs. There were just a few hardy souls in the park today, but they were stalwarts for sure. That woman in the photo took off […]

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More Reflections on the High Line

I’ve stopped marveling at the fact that every time I visit the High Line I notice something new; it’s just the reality of this place, and one of its many charms.  But here’s a new view that surprised me yesterday, something I never noticed before: the building across the street from the Tenth Avenue Square, […]

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The Slow Park

The High Line once again has the “disappearing railroad blues,” having closed to visitors earlier this morning because a sheet of ice descended on New York City in the wake of last week’s snow storm. The High Line is our Slow Park. For visitors, it exerts an almost gravitational force, slowing their pace and opening […]

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Merry Christmas, Rail Fans!

I got an early Christmas present today from Paul vanMeter, rail fan extraordinaire and co-founder of Philadelphia’s VIADUCTgreene project: an introduction to the work of Howard Fogg, a Brooklyn-born artist and the Norman Rockwell of America’s railroad. He was also a fighter pilot during World War II, and over the course of a long career […]

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The Radial Bench, Liberated

The “radial bench” is one of my favorite features on the High Line. A long — it extends for a full city block, between 29th – 30th Streets — sinuous bench, it always reminds me of the law of nature pronounced by the great urban writer and scholar of open spaces William “Holly” Whyte:  “People […]

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High Line Architecture: Morgan General Mail Facility

This third piece on High Line architecture focuses on the Morgan General Mail Facility on Tenth Avenue between 28th and 30th Streets. Of the buildings I’ve covered so far in this series (the Westyard Distribution Center next door and the former R.C. Williams warehouse a few blocks south) the Morgan has the oldest and richest […]

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The Funny Thing About Landfill

These guys are swimming on land. Or, more precisely, on landfill. And, on an unseasonably warm December day, they seemed to be enjoying themselves as they went about their business repairing giant piles that help support a roadway that’s shared (and not always so nicely) by joggers, bikers, bladers, pedestrians, baby strollers, cars and giant […]

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Billy Collins and Consolations in the Winter Landscape

“It is possible to be struck by a meteor or a single-engine plane while reading in a chair at home….” Those are the opening lines of Billy Collins’ poem “Picnic, Lightning,” part of an exhibition of public literature at the New York Botanical Garden. Throughout the garden this holiday season one finds Collins’ evocative poems, […]

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El Anatsui’s Magical Bridge

Last week, men in helmets attached to climbing ropes rappelled up and down the east wall of 510 West 22nd Street, once a parking garage owned by Time Warner Cable and, for the past year, temporary home to the magisterial artwork Broken Bridge II by West African artist El Anatsui. Of all the many superb […]

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Vincent Scully & The High Line

Earlier this week Joshua David and Robert Hammond, co-founders of Friends of the High Line, received the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize. Awarded by the National Building Museum in Washington, it was created to recognize extraordinary practice, scholarship or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design. The namesake of the award and its first recipient […]

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High Line Architecture: Global Warehouse To “World School”

  The second building in my new series about architecture along the High Line is the former R.C. Williams warehouse, now Avenues School, on Tenth Avenue between 25th – 26th Streets. [Click here to read the first piece in the series, about the Westyard Distribution Center, and here for the "What's the Building?" feature] Just […]

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High Line Architecture: Westyard Distribution Center

As part of my ongoing lectures and talks about the High Line I’ve been digging deeper into the history of many distinctive buildings near the old viaduct-turned-park. “What’s That Building?”– a guide to architecture in the High Line’s viewscape –  is a popular feature on this blog, and today I’m launching a new series of […]

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Magical Magicada: The 17-Year Cicada Has Landed

Updated 9 June, 2013 On June 1, sometime in the early morning, the cicadas arrived in southern Columbia County. Slowly they have made their way up the eastern seaboard, and day by day I’ve been hearing reports of their noisy arrival from friends to the south. On Friday May 31, my brother-in-law got his first […]

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Bikeable City = Walkable City

I’ve been gleefully awaiting the new bikeshare program, and for weeks have been contemplating the many ways I’d use it. Primarily, I’ve assumed, it’ll be handy for quick crosstown access to the subway on the East Side. According to Google Maps I’m 1.2 miles from the Lexington Avenue line, a distance it’s (much) faster to […]

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Preparing for Cicadas

Seventeen years ago we were spending weekends in a small 19th century converted saltbox in Germantown, New York, that had once been home to the local school teacher. It was also her classroom. I bought the house in 1985 from an Episcopalian minister who was partly deaf but swore he could still hear the voices […]

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Painters in the Sky

An amazing creative act is taking place right now on the High Line. If ever there was a reason to leave your desk and head out to the park, this is it. But go now, because it’ll be over soon. Painters from a company called Colossal Media are working on a scaffold at 20th Street […]

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A Tale of Two Gardens

NOTE: a version of this article first appeared on the blog of the American Library of Paris on 26 March, 2013. I’m headed to Paris this week to give a talk at the American Library about the High Line. As my plane takes off, an important rite of spring will be ending in New York’s […]

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History in the Shadows

Who doesn’t love a New York City water tank? This iconic rooftop emblem is famous around the world, a standard bearer for our skyline. Recently — and from the High Line, my favorite observation deck — I’ve discovered a new way to appreciate these “silent sentries,” as the filmmaker Jane Martin calls them: in reflection. […]

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A Poem for Valentine’s Day on the High Line

Today, Valentine’s Day, a poem from my Dad, as he typed it and then signed it, as a Valentine’s Day card for me many years ago. He would have loved the High Line, and I’m sorry he never got to see it. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Click here to read more of W.E.R.’s poetry. And […]

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The High Line: Past, Present and Future

Here’s a picture that’s worth a thousand words: the High Line past (rusty old viaduct); present (restored railing with its modern light fixture on top); and future (one set of pipe-rails painted and signs of construction all around).  The northern end of the park is a flurry of activity, both on the High Line and […]

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A River Runs Through It

When I was researching my High Line book I came across an autobiography published in 1864 by a professor at General Theological Seminary, Rev. Samuel H. Turner. In his book Dr. Turner recalls the days when there was a hill and an apple orchard behind the Seminary, and 21st Street was known as Love Lane. […]

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The Feisty Tenement

A couple of weeks ago my cousin Antoinette and I took a walk along the High Line. When we arrived at the construction scaffolding that now overstretches the park at 30th Street, I pulled out my phone and showed her the photograph above, which I had taken almost exactly a month earlier from the roof […]

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Rooftop Artists

“So atop the city that taught the world what modern cities ought to be, there they are, the hoops and staves of the Middle Ages.” — Charles Kuralt This blog is no danger of becoming LivinTheWaterTower.com, Scout’s honor, but I’ve had such an interesting response to recent pieces about New York’s water towers that I […]

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Walking the High Line

Something to remind you. Note: this video was posted after the High Line was closed because of Hurricane Sandy. Video by Matt Baron. Original music by Rafael Cortés. Edited by Eric Paesel. Created for the ON THE HIGH LINE app for iPhone/iPad by Soma Rishi LLC.

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Magical Water Towers

Water towers are as much a part of the New York City landscape as skyscrapers, and many people find as much art in the rooftop “hoops and staves of the Middle Ages” as they do in the city’s modern architecture. That’s a quote from Charles Kuralt, the great CBS newsman, who also loved the city’s […]

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New Kid on the Avenue

Today is the first day of classes at Avenues, the new “world school” whose campus is located in a stately former warehouse on Tenth Avenue between 25th & 26th Streets. Over the next few years the school, a for-profit venture conceived by Benno Schmidt (former head of Yale University) and Christopher Whittle (founder of the […]

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The Art of the Water Tower

Readers of this blog know that I love New York’s water towers. One of the most-read posts in the archive is a piece about Charles Kuralt, the great CBS newsman who also adored the “hoops and staves of the Middle Ages” that define our city skyline. Next spring a new public art project will pay […]

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Jeremiah Moss and the Misplaced Gerund

For years I’ve followed Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the blog that takes “a bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct,” with admiration and interest. I’ve linked to it from this blog (and still do) along with various other sites that cover New York from a unique perspective. As a lifelong […]

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The West Side Cowboy & The High Line: A Birthday Tribute

On June 8 the High Line turned three years old, and in celebration I’ve put together a special tribute to the “West Side Cowboy” that includes rare video footage shot in the 1930s. The tribute page and video are here. The High Line is a place of countless stories from New York’s past (I’ve just […]

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Professor of Place

Paul VanMeter, co-founder of VIADUCTgreene in Philadelphia, has written, with Leah Murphy, a fascinating article on “Placemaking” in the online journal Philadelphia Social Innovations.  It begins: “Great, vital Places — capitalization intended — are imperative for cultivating creative and cultural life,” and goes on to explore what gives a building — or a former battlefield, […]

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Message From Bangladesh: Leave Sarah Sze’s Scultpure on the High Line

Last week I received an email from a high school student in Bangladesh named Tinni Bhattacharyya. There, nearly 8,000 miles from 21st Street on Manhattan island, she has launched a campaign to make Sarah Sze’s sculpture “Landscape With Still Life” a permanent fixture on the High Line. Tinni created a Facebook page for the campaign, […]

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Detroit’s Urban Greenway

In May 2009, just a few weeks before the High Line was completed, the Dequindre Cut Greenway opened in Detroit. Joggers, promenaders, cyclists, kids in carriages, rollerbladers — just about anyone who wanted to enjoy the outdoors — suddenly had a new open space to wander and frolic. There are many similarities to the High […]

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Shadowcaster

NOTE: this posted has been updated The billboard on 18th Street has probably been empty before, but I’ve never seen it, and certainly not as it is now, starkly black. It’s really quite striking: it shows an absence of advertising, which makes you consider what life might be like if we weren’t bombarded at every […]

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The Choreography of the Cutback

Over the years there have been zillions of articles about the High Line Spring Cutback (including several on this blog), but until today I didn’t have a clue what a complex and coordinated operation the whole thing is. This morning I had the great privilege of watching and participating in Act II of the Cutback: […]

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The Falcon and the DEA Man

If you’re a regular High Line visitor you know the magnificent peregrine falcon who has taken up residence at the Drug Enforcement Agency building on 17th Street. I’ve been photographing this bird for more than a year, and a few months ago saw him perched with his mate.  Occasionally he cries out in piercing bursts, […]

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Introducing Urban Greenways

All over the country – and indeed the world – the impact of the High Line is being felt.  Every week, it seems, brings a new story of someone who’s dreaming of a park made from  an old railway, and in many places those dreams are becoming reality. This Fall I made two trips to […]

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The Dogs of the High Line, Including Photos!

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, but the weather was similar to today’s: rainy, raw, bone-chilling. There weren’t too many creatures in the park. A great many people come to this blog looking for dogs on the High Line, and I’m always happy to oblige. Dogs are not, of course, allowed on […]

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Nine Reasons to Read HIGH LINE

There are as many reasons to admire this book as there are entries to the High Line. So I’ll give you nine. 1. It’s inspirational: a true David and Goliath story, set in post 9/11 New York City, featuring two guys who admit quite charmingly in these pages that they had no idea what they […]

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The Crickets of the High Line

If you’re having trouble re-engaging with work this first week after Labor Day, I encourage you to take a walk through the Chelsea Thicket, one of my favorite sections of the High Line. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for why a billion crickets have taken up residence in this particular patch of Manhattan, but […]

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Seeing Ourselves in Robert Adams’ Nebraska State Highway

I love the (relatively) new billboard on the High Line, which is part of the park’s great public art program. Joel Sternfeld selected Robert Adams’ black & white photograph of a highway in Nebraska, titled “Nebraska State Highway 2, Butte County” and it will remain on the billboard over the giant parking lot on 18th […]

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The Sternfeld Sky

  There was a beautiful, Sternfeldian sky above Manhattan this afternoon, and even though I had work to do I grabbed my camera and hit the High Line. There I found the striking Robert Adams billboard that just went up yesterday, which is part of a new outdoor photography exhibit that Joel Sternfeld is curating. […]

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Manhattan Microclimate

A few months ago I took a tour with one of the High Line’s gardeners and when we got to 14th Street — the widest part of both the park and Manhattan — she noted how windy it was. And how much cooler. The High Line, sitting as it does about 30 feet above sea […]

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The Quiet Park

I have left town for a week — my first vacation of the year, and much-needed — and find myself in my own garden pulling weeds. It’s very quiet here on a small mountain along the Hudson River in Columbia County. Frequently a train goes by and toots its horn. If it’s a big one […]

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The Shy Birds of High Line

A quite wonderful thing is happening on the High Line in section two: the birds are really flocking to Sarah Sze’s sculpture. But they’re shy, at least during the daytime when thousands of people are passing by, sticking camera lenses into their little wooden houses and offering good, old-fashioned New York City food critiques of […]

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Secret Dogs on the High Line

It’s every dog’s dream to visit the High Line. Some people — and I love this about New York — are just undeterred. My dog Bucky weighs 55 pounds so there’s no way I’m going to stuff him underneath my suit jacket for an afternoon of flâneur. But these bold High Line visitors were not […]

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Dreaming of the Days of the Great Ocean Liners

Eighty-four years ago, on June 29, 1927, the Ile de France sailed into New York Harbor on her maiden voyage. Famous for being the most beautiful ocean liner of the day, the Art Deco inspired ship had a dining room that was decorated in marble and gold and featured a chrome fountain in the center. […]

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The Birds Are Coming to Sarah Sze’s Exhibit in Section Two

Readers of this blog know that I have been mourning the impending loss of Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute” exhibit, which comes down on June 20th.  But you can be consoled by a very cool exhibit in the new section of the park — at around 21st Street – by the artist Sarah Sze. […]

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Stephen Vitiello’s Bells From the Hudson River

Today is the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, and this afternoon New York City was under a tornado watch. This made me think about a story I read about the Frying Pan lightship that’s docked at Pier 66a just a few blocks from my home and in view (I think, but won’t know […]

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Naughty But Cool: Jazz Band on the High Line

This jazz quintet scurried into the garden this morning for a quick photo opp. Maybe they can only read music and therefore the 8 million signs that prohibit walking amongst the plantings eluded them. Anyway, they got their photo and seconds later it began to rain on their instruments so they scurried out again, without […]

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It’s a marvelous day for a bird bath

Tonight is the big bash that Friends of the High Line is hosting to celebrate next month’s the opening of Section Two. For the past hour or so ladies and gentlemen in black tie have been parading past our little patch on 22nd – 23rd street. Ho hum. More interesting: even the birds decided to […]

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It Tolls For Thee…

  Sad news that Stephen Vitiello’s marvelous exhibit, “A Bell For Every Minute,” will close later this Spring. The folks who run the High Line have a robust program of art exhibits and they’ve created a one-year rule for themselves to keep the programs fresh and new. That makes (some) sense, but it’ll be hard […]

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To see a World in a blade of grass…

(With apologies to William Blake….) As the opening of the second section of the High Line draws near I offer a tiny, easy-to-miss piece of nostalgia for hard-core lovers of this “meadow in the sky.” The single blade of grass you see in the photo above grows at the southern-most portion of the original High […]

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The River That Flows Both Ways

The art exhibit by Spencer Finch, “The River That Flows Both Ways,” is one of my favorite parts of the High Line and today I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. Again, I thank the camera, which caught something my eyes didn’t see on their own: the reflection of the building just opposite the colored […]

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What “Keeping it Wild” Really Means

Here’s something new I learned today about the High Line: they don’t use commercial salt products to melt ice on the pavements. It’s easy to understand why: the surface of the park is carefully crafted from stone, cement, asphalt, wood and steel: all surfaces that would quickly degrade in the presence of chemicals, to say […]

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Farewell Pier D

Driving down the West Side Highway last Sunday we met with a sad surprise as we approached 64th Street: Pier D was in the process of being dismantled. It was an icy day and several boats and a large crane were at work taking apart the old wreck. The Times ran a story with a […]

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What the Camera Lets us See

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the act of taking a picture — I don’t want to call it “photography” since what I’m doing is so much below the standard of art and more a gesture of observation and record-keeping — can engage a person with a subject. This has been on my […]

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An Homage to Charles Kuralt and New York’s Water Towers

The long weeks with no (apparent) progress on my section of the High Line have caused my eye to wander, and lately I’ve been admiring the majestic water towers on the roof of the London Terrace Towers apartments across the street from my apartment. (That’s 23rd Street, just off 10th Avenue.) I’m reminded of how […]

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In Praise of Urban Architects & Designers

Watching and studying a great public space in progress has made me think a lot about the decisions that designers and architects make as they create the places that we will all inhabit and enjoy. Every weekend I drive down the West Side Highway on my way home from upstate, and it’s hard not to […]

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The Unfinished Nature of Life

Walking on the High Line today I discovered that there’s still an unfinished section in the part of the park that’s open to the public. I shot a paver from that section (it’s at around 16th Street) back in mid-September, and there it was, five months later, still unfinished. There’s also a wonderful contraption called a […]

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Join a City Parks Alliance Project as Data Collector

The project manager for City Parks Alliance, a terrific group that studies and advocates for urban parks, contacted me about an interesting opportunity — and a paid position — to work with CPA and the RAND Corporation as part of an important study about the connection between urban parks and public health. They’re looking for […]

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