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Section Two

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 their bird seed. However, once you approach the exhibit you start hearing this chorus of chirping, and if you look around in the grass and stone mulch you can see them hopping around. I caught this mourning dove today, but there were lots of sparrows too, as well as butterflies who were enjoying the fruit that has been left for them.

I marvel that there’s this habitat just outside my window and am reminded, again, at what “Keep it wild” really means.

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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. There’s a way in which this is a “living” exhibit: there are trays with seeds to attract birds and orange and apple slices to attract butterflies. And the little bird houses in the sky make a nice contrast to the sturdy human abodes that you can see in the distance, through the exhibit — the stately water towers of the Lincoln Towers apartment building and the Empire State Building.

I caught this fella, a house wren, early this morning. If you were a bird, isn’t this where you’d want to be?

 

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I’ve been preparing myself for the transition from construction site to park. I was basically ready to say goodbye to the good old days of guys in hard hats and welcome the throngs of tourists who are about to replace them.

But then I look out the window and what do I see? Guys in hard hats erecting a scaffold.

So something’s up, though I have no idea what.

One thing I’d like to note, in these waning days of construction-guy appreciation. Take a look at those stanchions (click on the image if you want to enlarge it). When did you ever see building materials laid out so artistically? These guys are impeccable.

Meantime, there’s a lawn to be mowed.

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The much-anticipated opening of Section Two of the High Line will take place soon, sometime during June. The 9th would have special special resonance because it’s the second anniversary of the park’s opening in 2009. The 8th would get a jump on that day. But beyond guessing at the opening date what’s interesting to me is the question: how will our experience of the High Line change?

Here are a few early answers:

1. The new section of the High Line runs through a neighborhood that’s much more residential than the southern section. Visitors to the park will have views into the apartments and lofts of people who live along the old viaduct and call it home. How will this change the experience of walking through the park, both by day and by night? It’s unlikely that anyone who lives in view of the park will put on the kind of show that guests to the Standard Hotel do, but who knows. In any case, there’s no doubt that the northern section will create a new sense of intimacy between visitor and resident.

2. The lawn between 22nd – 23rd Streets will offer a whole new way to experience the High Line: while lying down. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the park in the first section, including the popular lounge chairs in the sun-deck area and the ubiquitous “peel-up” benches, but a lawn invites us to stop and relax in an entirely different way. People will bring a book, a beach towel, a picnic; they’ll come to the High Line for an afternoon of rest and sun, not just a lovely walk. The “slow park” may get even slower.

3. Just as section one gave us a whole new way to experience Manhattan — from a unique perch of 30 feet above street level — so will the second section open up still-new vistas. One example: we’ll get an expansive view of 23rd Street, a boulevard that’s steeped in history. In the late 19th century it was the center of New York’s theatre district. It’s still home to the storied Chelsea Hotel where Mark Twain lived when it was the tallest building in New York City. Longer ago, when the Hudson River ran up what’s now 10th Avenue (under modern the High Line park) 23rd Street was part of a grand estate of fields and apple orchards that belonged to Clement Clarke Moore, author of A Visit From St. Nicholas.

Section one is steeped in its own history: the original Gansevoort farmer’s market, the birth of the technology of refrigeration, the old piers that supported what was at one point the largest port in the country. Section two offers a whole new chapter of New York history, with a wonderful diversity of manufacturing that includes everything from books and elevators to the foil that keeps cigarettes fresh in their packages.

4. The High Line will no longer be part park, part construction project, which means I’ll have to change the tagline of my blog. Even more, all that anticipation — the endless months of drumroll — will be over.  All that’s left will be a simple walk in the park.

But not for me. I’m getting ready for section 3….

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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 clean up their act for the big night. These little guys were having a lovely bird bath in the sun deck area.

And did I mention that it’s 7:13 and Atlantis, a child’s toy phone, is sounding in Stephen Vitiello’s exhibit A Bell For Every Minute. See here for the sound map.

Note to the Friends of the High Line: can’t you find a way to keep this wonderful exhibit in the park?

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And chances are you never will. So enjoy the fantasy.

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High Line Gets a Haircut

“If lawn mowing feels like copying the same sentence over and over, gardening is like writing out new ones, an infinitely variable process of invention and discovery.” — Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

I’ve been waiting for this moment: the sound of the screeching lawn mower, right here in the middle of Manhattan.

The grass has been getting awfully long down there on the High Line and last week I found myself muttering (like a restless housewife) “they better get that lawn cut…” In fact the fellow with the mower did struggle today; he kept having to stop his work to clear big, wet clumps of grass from both the lawn and his machine, stuffing them in a burlap bag before moving on to the next row. But this young fella had good manners: he shut down the machine every time he had to pause, then cranked it back up when he was ready to continue, thus sparing us all unnecessary noise and fumes.

I would have been happier with a grove of birch or flowering fruit trees down there. A lawn seems so pedestrian compared to the glorious diversity of plants in the rest of the park. But that grass is gorgeous and thick, and it’ll give me pleasure — a small blast from the country — to hear the mowing and the weedwhacking each week.  And the smell of cut grass is a mighty fine accompaniment to a hot cup of Lapsang Suchong in the morning.

I know why Michael Pollan ended his argument about lawns with this sentiment: “Yes, there might well be a place for a small lawn in my new garden.”

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Lights on the High Line



Last night’s twinkling of lights
on the new section of the High Line (my little patch is between 22nd and 23rd Streets) made me think about the lighting throughout the park. It was designed by Hervé Descottes of L’Observatoire International, a lighting design firm based in New York.  What’s most remarkable — in a city of blaring, flashing lights — is the restraint that Descottes imposed on his design. The chief example of this is the fact that all the lighting is set below eye level. Never on the High Line will you turn away from something because there’s light in your eyes, and never will you quickly turn around to look at something because it’s cast in a spot light. Like great book design you don’t immediately “see” it; it’s so well integrated into the narrative that it only enables it, never overpowers or even suggests itself.

This is a city of big egos, filled with designers and architects whose work constantly pulls at you. “Look at me, over here, see this detail, this brilliant effect.” With the lighting on the High Line Descottes did something entirely different. He lights the path — an important piece of business — and he places soft, lovely, LED lights under the guard rails and here and there amid the plants. It seems at once random and planned, and in any case completely organic to the park’s overall design.

I had no idea what it would look like out there once the new section of High Line opened, and I confess I worried about the lights. Would they pierce the living room window, like the old Chase Bank did before the (even more garishly lit) condo-in-progress blocked it?

Last night the lights popped on for the first time, against a backdrop of rain, thunder, and lightning.  There was no one there — no workmen, no tourists — just the twinkling glow against the evergreens. Hats off to you, Mr. Descottes.

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Lights, Camera….

 




Oh my, we have Action on the new section of the High Line.

All these years I’ve wondered what it would be like to gaze out the window and see my little patch of High Line lit up. The new section is still not open — it’ll be another few weeks — so presumably they’re testing things. Fittingly this new stage lit up against a clap of thunder (cue the dog growling) and a teeming rain. Well, it’s a marvelous night….

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Stairway to Heaven



This picture conveys little of the romance and glory of the High Line, and that’s all right with me. Soon — spring? — it will be cleaned up and elegant: a stairway to our little piece of heaven in Manhattan. But today it’s a work-in-progress, barricaded by plywood boards with Bills Posted. If you stand in the spot where I did when I took this photo — 23rd Street between 10th & 11th, on the south side of the street just under the High Line — and you wriggle your head in just the right way you’ll get a swell surprise. I won’t spoil it for you, but fellow fans of Charles Kuralt will recognize it immediately. Hint here.

And what do we have to look forward to? A lovely patch of lawn has appeared outside my window. Many of you will have read the stories in the Times about the northern stretch of the High Line and how its design is so different from the southern part. There are photos here and also on the official High Line blog, where they actually show a photo of my building taken from the new lawn (ours is the one with all the graffiti). Here’s my view, taken today during Snowstorm #2:



And here it is between storms, looking more lawn-like. I can just picture the lounging folks who will crowd that soon-to-be green carpet during the summer, sipping cups of coffee and reading their books. I look forward to the sound of a lawn mower outside my city window.

But for now it remains a quiet, deserted spot, a lawn-to-be. I’m treasuring these moments.


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