The entirety of the Meatpacking District was involved in trade and commerce that stretched far outside of the borders of the Lower West Side. The train (and later the highway system with trucks) was the main mode of transportation for all of the industry born in the Meatpacking. Freight trains were pivotal for transporting animals coming to slaughter and eventually the meat back out to Jersey, uptown, and down into Brooklyn. The High Line is a prime example of the way that time has appropriated the uses of the past and created something both modern and, yet, still historically relevant.
The "West Side Cowboys" were a distinctive feature of the attempt to protect the lives of New Yorkers around Death Avenue prior to the construction of the elevated railroad tracks.
In the late 1800s, what we now call 10th Avenue was known as Death Avenue. The commercial train tracks, which connected the Meatpacking District all the way into Jersey and far South past Brooklyn, ran up and down this avenue, with no protection or barriers from the laymen on the street. Thousands of deaths occurred because of the lack of safety regulations that surrounded the trains, with no warning, no stop lights for either the train or the pedestrians, and a large amount of carelessness regarding the safety of the populous. Eventually, the “Lower West Side Cowboys” began to work for the city, riding horses and carrying red flags in front of trains so that the men, women, and children would know to clear the path before it was too late. However, the death rate remained alarmingly high, and a safety movement known as the Lower West Side Improvement Plan sponsored the raising of the railroad tracks up off the ground in order to protect the lives of the innocent citizens who were being killed far-too regularly. The city raised the tracks in 1932, immediately prior to the Great Depression. Soon enough, the train was rendered obsolete to the large interstate highways and the High Line tracks fell to ill use. Fewer and fewer trains were running on those paths, until, in 1980, the last train to top the High Line held 3 car-loads of frozen turkeys on the day before Thanksgiving and officially retired the High Line of it’s original intended use.
Charles T. Harvey first ran the initial test run on the elevated railroad track, which would eventually be known as the High Line, in 1867. He rode in a small car which was connected to a steam-powered generator on the ground below. He donned his Sunday best for the occasion.
After falling into disrepair for nearly twenty years, the High Line began to create, in and of itself, something of a natural arboretum, where pollination by birds and bees began to birth a small forest on the tracks. Illicit activity oftentimes populated the darkest corners of the tracks, underneath the archways nooks and crannies began to hold prime offices for drug dealers, prostitutes, and homeless people looking for a rain-free environment. Eventually, the city began to discuss the complete demolition of the raised tracks, allowing for a fair amount of completely uninhabited space for new construction. However, in 1999, the Friends of the High Line was established, and the organization began actively and frequently lobbying the New York City Council for preservation and funds to make the High Line, instead of a new round of condominium buildings, a public open space available and afforded to the entirety of New York City residents.
This stunning photograph is of the High Line and adjoining apartment buildings by night.
Less than 10 years later, in 2009, the first section of the new High Line Park, running from Gansevoort Street to West 20th opened up to the public, with the section from West 20th to West 30th opening up two years later. It was decided by the city, seeing as the Tax Returns from such a large open space would outweigh the cost of the renovation in a short amount of time, that the investment in the High Line Park was completely worth it on behalf of New York City itself. Quickly, High Line park was completely embraced by not only the Meatpacking District, but the entirety of Manhattan.
From the edges of the High Line Park the views of the city are completely unique and truly embody a side of the city that is not often seen.
Now, the High Line Park is one of the top tourist destinations in the city and is something that can be appreciated, year round, by all sorts of New Yorkers and tourists alike. Now this dynamic and renowned park is the backdrop to many performance art pieces, open-air theatre, speeches, exhibitions, and the like. During the warmer months, food vendors open up at multiple locations on the High Line and serve a variety of food, coffee, and beverages. Art vendors occasionally set up shop, selling anything from High Line t-shirts to paintings of the New York City skyline. When the sun is out, picnic blankets and baskets pop up left and right as locals attempt to appropriate their own slice of green-space in the steel-city. Couples, families, and singletons alike find their own space within the High Line, on the grassy knolls, on the track-style benches, or on the cushioned sun chaises that lay facing the glorious views of the Hudson River.
The High Line has become a nationally recognized destination, where people arrive with picnic baskets or cameras in tow, ready to absorb unique views of New York City in a grassy knoll high above the sidewalks. Though a public space, the High Line is a part of a very active BID, known as “Friends of the High Line” who work to patrol and regulate activities in and on the park itself. As a result, there is no sense of personal freedom when walking down the raised park. Though the views are magnificent, and the sight of tourists and New Yorkers alike who come to enjoy the views is really wonderfully communal, it does not feel like a place where you can make up your own rules. Neatly manicured, well cared for, and exceedingly tended to, the entirety of the plants on the High Line are just so; the grassy fields are just so; the chaise lounges that overlook the Hudson River are just so. There is very little room for interpretation of the desired activities. One may sit, one may walk, one may lounge, one may gaze, one may photograph, read, listen to an iPod, watch an outdoor Shakespeare performance, buy a coffee, drink it, throw the cup away in a designated trash receptacle. The space is exceedingly tight, despite the fact that it’s publicity could lend it to be a wonderfully varied area. Because of the strict regulations, the very widely known acceptable forms of behavior, this space could not and will not truly become a loose space, as per Franck and Steven’s definition in Loose Space. Because of the fact that it is very hard to appropriate the spacious High Line for one’s own uses, with the rules and regulations of the surveyed park clearly denoted on many signs, poles, and entrances to the park itself, and with very specific hours of operation, it becomes difficult to truly explore the uses of the space on a more personal level.
Eighty years ago, as the High Line was being constructed, an elevated rail road intended to save lives up and down “Death Avenue,” no construction worker in his right mind would have predicted that their toil and labor would eventually work out to be an elevated public space, where more families than freight cars would roll around. However, the appropriation of the High Line Rail Track for the modern day has completely revolutionized the space of the Meatpacking District. Once a derelict “eyesore” (according to some) is now a completely urban green-space, simultaneously protecting the history of the railroad whilst appropriating it for revolutionary uses in the modern moment. With only one other part like it in the entire world, the High Line Park is something of a world-wide hotspot that joins amazing views of The Big Apple and the Hudson River with a distinctly unique, historical location to create a one-of-a-kind New York urban environment.
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