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New York’s High Line Begins Construction

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Images courtesy Friends of the High Line

On April 10, workers began construction that will result in the conversion of Manhattan’s High Line into a six-acre public park.  Trains once used the abandoned rail trestle, which snakes 1.5 miles across city streets, to deliver freight to buildings on the city’s far West Side. The park will occupy the trestle’s elevated rail deck, which rises between 18 and 30 feet above street level. The first section of the park, by the team of Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street, and is scheduled for completion in Spring 2008.

The High Line’s redevelopment is spurring a construction boom in its surrounding neighborhoods, where prominent architects, including Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers, Annabelle Selldorf, Robert A.M. Stern, Polshek Partnership, and Gwathmey Siegel are designing new buildings. 

In addition to the high profile architects, a June 2005 rezoning allowing residential buildings along the High Line from 16th Street to 30th Street is also shaping new buildings. Urban design controls for the area ensure that adequate light and air reach the new-elevated park. And in contrast to other parts of Manhattan, where current zoning generally mandates a continuous street-wall, in the rezoned area abutting the High Line new buildings will be arranged in a staggered fashion. On certain large lots, up to 40 percent of a building’s surface area can rise up next to the High Line.

“Building around the High Line requires architects to be more innovative than in other parts of Manhattan,” says  Amanda Burden, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission. To preserve open space around the High Line, the new zoning rules permit property owners to sell their development rights to building sites anywhere within the rezoned district. In  most areas of Manhattan development rights can be sold to only to adjacent property owners.

Although the High Line is a major impetus for the redevelopment of far West Chelsea, designers and planners say that the preservation and reinterpretation of the structure’s special qualities is key to its success as a park. “We want to make sure that it doesn’t turn into an elevated street,” says James Corner, Director of Field Operations. “Part of the magic of the thing is its complete separation from the city. It is completely severed from everything around it, and that is what makes it an interesting thing to walk on.”

Alex Ulam