I shot this collection of photographs on a recent trip to New York. My visit to the city, which was taken one week before this fall semester started, proved to be very valuable in bettering my understanding of New York. For this trip, my particular focus was on the High Line and the surrounding neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village and the NYU community. The collection of images I have chosen for this post consists of photographs taken of the High Line and the area underneath the elevated structure.
The High Line is an example of a reclaimed urban space. The elevated railway, once part of an inner-city rail system that brought goods directly to factory and warehouse doors, is now home to an urban green space which snakes its way through Manhattan’s lower west side. When the tracks were no longer needed they went into disuse, a state they would stay in until 1999, when a group known as the Friends of The High Line starting pushing for the reclaiming of the space. A few years later, the city of New York granted funding, and on June 8, 2009, the High Line opened to the public.
The High Line is important not only for its historical significance, but for what it offers the city, its residents, and its visitors today. The High Line draws people of various backgrounds from both within the city and from without. Take for instance the group I went with. I am from Georgia, and the visit to New York was my first ever to the Big Apple. By visiting the High Line, I was shown an area of cultural importance that many tourists do not get to see because they get lost in the lights of Times Square or Madison Square Garden. By walking the High Line, I was allowed to connect with the city; allowed to take it in and experience the hustle and bustle from above. This left me with a sense of both being removed and involved all at the same time. In contrast, the other members of my group were all from New York. Several had visited the High Line on numerous occasions. However, they were still able to draw meaning from the perspective on the streets of New York which a walk of the High Line gives. In all, both myself, a visitor, and my companions, residents, were allowed to experience a sense of shared urban identity by navigating the High Line. We were shown buildings that juxtapose history and decades old culture with hip street vendors and modern glass paneling. The set of photos I have chosen expresses some of these contrasts and allows us to get a glimpse at what the High Line offers Manhattan.
So what does the High Line offer Manhattan? The elevated greenway provides a place for events such as school field trips, art exhibitions, and spoken word presentations. The High Line provides people with a public space to come together as a community to engage in a healthy lifestyle. Any given day, a variety of people may be seen walking the High Line. On my visit I saw young mothers pushing strollers, elderly groups taking in the breezes on a walk which took them over the busy streets of New York, and artists moving about, attempting to recreate the scenes offered by the elevation of the park.
Moving on to my photo selections, I will start with the first photo in the group. This photo is of a set of wooden stair-like benches set against the side of a brick building. The ways in which a student of architecture can analyze the surrounding buildings and structures are seemingly endless. If an individual were to sit at this spot for long enough, that individual is sure to see a New York University student take a seat on the benches, accompanied by a book and a need to work through a tough load of homework. On my visit to the High Line, I saw just such a thing. I witnessed not only a student sitting down to read a book on the wooden benches, but I saw students throughout the length of the High Line taking on various school related projects. The benches seen in the second photograph are often used for just such a purpose. The third and fourth photographs reveal “natural” spaces. By “natural” I mean that both images depict places where people can “escape” the grasp of the city and connect instead with a more primitive environment. The third photograph shows a “lawn” of green grass enclosed by towering buildings, the grass offering a stark contrast to the concrete jungle surrounding it. In the fourth photograph we see running water, its movement almost resembling a shallow stream. Such settings are important to have in a city. Parks, such as the High Line, offer a contrasting experience to the drone of grey concrete and black asphalt of city streets.
Continuing on to the fifth photo, we see the moving “stream” again, this time from a different direction. Looking back, we see what appears to be a tunnel. This tunnel is part of a building which the High Line passes through. The shade offered under the building provides a great place to cool down, and attracts vendors and artists. I met with one artist there, a local student, who was selling his work and meeting new people along the way. This inter-mingling is very important because it allows users of the High Line to develop a sense of community. Out of this sense of community comes pride in one’s neighborhood and thus works and projects to better that area. When enough people feel strongly for something, changes can be made. Take, for instance, the High Line itself. It started out as a project taken on by a group who felt a sense of community and obligation to that community. This shared urban experience led to the development of a park now frequented by many, further spreading the feeling of a shared urban experience. I shall use myself as an example once more. Though I only visited the park for one day, I now feel a sense of pride in the High Line, and this pride helps me connect to the city of New York and the people who reside in the area surrounding the greenway.
I included the sixth image because it reveals the view a user of the High Line has of a New York street. Safely above the road, I was able to take in my urban surroundings and analyze the business going on below.
The final two pictures were taken under the High Line. The seventh image is of an outdoor roller-skating rink. People of various ages use this rink for both entertainment and health purposes. The rink offers children a safe place to play by giving them a surface to skate on that is not a busy New York street, and adults use the public space to partake in skating as a form of exercise. The eighth, and last, photograph is of an enclosed area under the High Line known as The Lot. The Lot is open during the warm summer months and offers people a place to relax in the shade and enjoy a snack or beverage from one of the food trucks or alchohol from the bar. Here, music plays, and people talk business, sports, politics, pets, fashion, and anything else of interest. Here, under the shade of the elevated park, the High Line brings together both residents of the city and visitors, offering a shared urban experience and allowing people to connect to the city in ways they may not have even thought possible.