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friends of the high line

Dreaming in Philadelphia

Over the past few days I’ve been taking booksellers in town for Book Expo America on walking tours of the High Line. As part of my preamble, I always find myself talking about High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, the 2011 book by Friends of the High Line co-founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond. I re-read this book every year because it puts me in a good mood and makes me feel optimistic about cities. The High Line faced such formidable resistance on so many fronts that it truly is a miracle that the thing exists at all. But in fact it now is inspiring other communities all over the world to believe in the possibility of creating innovative, people-friendly green spaces from post-industrial sites.

Which brings us back, once again, to the great Paul VanMeter, a driving force behind The Rail Park in Philadelphia. That project began with a dream to create a three mile urban greenway, part of which will be part elevated, like the High Line, and part of which will be submerged, in tunnels created more than 100 years ago by the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad. Paul died in February, but the project lives on. This week PBS Digital Studios released a short film about Paul and the Rail Park as part of its Unusual Spaces series. It’s an inspiring reminder that these unique, miraculous, places begin with someone’s passionate dream, and then take a decade or more to realize. The High Line is testament that it can be done, and the short film below bears witness to the dream unfolding. Give it a watch and you’ll see what I mean. To read more about Paul, click here.

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Annik La Farge & Rick Darke on the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia. Photo: Rick Darke

On July 11 my collaborator and friend Rick Darke and I are giving a special walking tour of the High Line. Rick is a renowned landscape ethicist, writer, horticulturist and photographer; he has been photographing and writing about the High Line since 2002, and contributed the preface, several short pieces and a number of photographs to my upcoming book On the High Line: Exploring America’s Most Original Urban Park.

As we walk we’ll talk about the history of the neighborhood — the railroads and port, industry, culture, architecture — and the beautiful “park in the sky” that has become a magnet for visitors from around the world. Rick’s expertise in horticulture and landscape ethics will make this walk a special opportunity to learn about the High Line’s design and its multilayered landscape. If you’re interested in photography, spending time with Rick on the High Line presents a golden opportunity to learn about ways to shoot the park in new and original ways.

Sign up at TheHighLine.org. The walk begins at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, July 11, and will last an hour. Tickets are $15 ($10 for members of Friends of the High Line) and all proceeds help fund the High Line, both today and in the future. The meeting location will be provided in the confirmation email.

On the High Line is available now. Go here for a list of retailer links. To learn about how the High Line went from abandoned railroad to award-winning park, read Joshua David and Robert Hammond’s excellent book High Line: The Inside Story of New York’s Park in the Sky.

See you on the High Line!

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Sponsor a Tree on the High Line

Friends of the High Line recently launched a truly inspired fund-raising campaign: Sponsor a Plant. There are more than 100,000 plants in the park, representing 170 species of flowers, 46 kinds of trees, and hundreds of species of grasses, shrubs, vines and bulbs. The now mile-long park requires a huge amount of love and care — pruning, watering, feeding, weeding — and the Friends pay the costs of upkeep.

So today, in the middle of our first Nor’Easter of the Fall season, I adopted a Smokebush. I chose this tree because it’s a shapeshifter and a real drama queen. Throughout the season it changes its shape, color and texture. Today it’s blowin’ in the wind (and battered by the flying slush) but it’s making a great show of its beautiful reddish-purple leaves. Earlier in the season — see the photo below, taken in May — the tree is leggier and it has little fronds that stick out in all directions. It looks like a lady of a certain age sitting under a hair dryer at the beauty salon; all it lacks is last month’s issue of Vogue.

I took a gardening tour of the High Line in the spring and the gardener who escorted my little group described this tree as “Dr. Seussy.” Boy, did she get that right. It’s hard to pass through the Gansevoort Woodland in the middle of May and not break out into hysterical laughter. This is a funny tree, an expressive tree, and a beautiful one too.

You too can sponsor a plant on the High Line. The smokebush Continus ‘Grace’ is a pricey plant (most likely because the High Line has to pay all those licensing fees to the Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss estate), but there’s a range of plants available and it includes a wonderful variety:  Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra),  Winterberry,  ‘Red Sprite’ (Ilex verticillata),  the fabulous grass Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), thread-leaf bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) and, last but not least, the Aster oblongifolius, ‘Raydon’s Favorite.’ Over the past few weeks this last plant has been stunning and has pretty much dominated the landscape. Today the asters, like most of the plants, are encased in ice, and as beautiful as ever.

If you love the High Line here’s another great way to support it: sponsor a plant. You’ll be supporting the landscape and also the amazingly great gardening staff that makes this park run day in and day out, through rain and sleet and hail and gloom of night. They’re out in full force today, shoveling slush so the rest of us can enjoy it.

So make yourself a nice cup of tea and do it now: www.TheHighLine.org.

And if you’re town walk (don’t run) to the park because there’s nothing more beautiful than a garden in a storm.

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