High Line historian reflects on history of beloved NYC park for 15th anniversary

Joelle Garguilo Image
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
High Line historian reflects on history of park for 15th anniversary
Joelle Garguilo has details on the anniversary of the High Line Park.

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) -- Amid the skyscrapers and bustling city streets is an oasis above the chaos - a park in the sky. The High Line is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, but its story begins long before that.

"The viaduct was designed and built to solve a problem, an age-old problem in New York City that we have today in our age of Ubers and scooters and Citi Bikes - crazy traffic, very dangerous traffic," said Annik LaFarge. "There were for 150 years trains running in the streets of New York City, which most people don't really think about."

LaFarge, author of "On the High Line," has been deep in research for the last 16 years.

"And by the 1850s, the city realized it had created an extremely dangerous situation. They came up with this really interesting ordinance that every train going up or down the avenue had to be preceded by a man on horseback. They became known as the West Side cowboys," LaFarge said. "And even despite these cowboys, there were so many deaths along this was the heart, it was known as Death Avenue."

The city needed a solution so they elevated the trains and the High Line was born. That was in the 1930s and the last train ran down the High Line in 1980.

It sat unused and nature took over.

"And so when you walk through the highline now, there are six and a half acres of gardens on the highline, more than 500 different species of plants, 16 garden zones, and of the plants that are here, more than 120 are native to one of the five boroughs of New York City, which I think is great," LaFarge said. "This is a New York City Park in every possible way."

But the High Line's transformation almost didn't happen.

"A lot of people wanted to tear it down, it was an eyesore, they said there were all these property owners underneath," LaFarge said. "And in fact, one of the last things that Mayor Rudy Giuliani did before he left office was to sign the demolition order for the High Line, which thankfully was later vacated by a judge that order."

LaFarge said her love for the High Line came when she moved to 22nd Street in 2008 and watched the project come to life. Anyone who walks with LaFarge can see it is clear that every section tells a story.

"There's also a tremendous amount of wildlife here and then Friends of the High Line has a very strong commitment to protecting wildlife," LaFarge said. "So what you don't see are little bee hotels to preserve, there's something like 33 species of bees, on and along the High Line. And so they're very committed to protecting wildlife. There are water features from birds and insects."

Art is also a vital part of the High Line experience. Rotating exhibitions and permanent installations dot the pathway.

As it marks its 15th anniversary, the High Line continues to evolve - much like the city it calls home.

"It's almost like a microcosm of the city for the change that it has, it changes the gardens, the seasons change, the architecture, the development changes, the amount of people changes, the art programs change," LaFarge said. "We are literally walking on history."


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