Wednesday, September 03, 2014

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Group Seeks To Rebuild "Highline" Elevated Railway On Manhattan's West Side

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You've seen it all along the west side. It's just slightly above the streets and sidewalks, and if you're like many New Yorkers you're wondering what it is.

So wonder no more. It's called the Highline: a rail line that was built in the 1930's to elevate tracks that used to run at ground level on Tenth Avenue.

“It was called the Îlifeline of New York,’” says Robert Hammond, the co-founder of a group called Friends of the Highline. “It's what brought goods and services in and out of New York, and in the 1960's - with the rise of interstate trucking - it fell into decline and was last used in the 80's.”

What remains of the Highline runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meat Packing District up to West 34th Street by the Javits Center, so it runs through several neighborhoods. Still, what's up there isn't exactly inviting.

According to Hammond, “Currently the Highline is filled with weeds, rocks and trash. But it doesn't take much imagination to envision what this could look like one day.”

And that's where the Friends of the Highline come in.

“We think it's an opportunity to at one time preserve a piece of the industrial character of the neighborhood, and at the same time create a real public amenity that's needed in the neighborhood,” says Hammond.

He is referring to parkland or a pedestrian promenade.

“Rarely in Manhattan do you have this much open space that was built with public monies for the public good that can be returned to the public good,” says Hammond.

And according to Hammond, there are federal funds available thru programs like "Rails To Trails” funding.

“It’s a mechanism that turns abandoned rail lines into public paths,” says Hammond. “Over 15,000 miles have been turned into paths across the country, and there's federal transportation dollars already set aside and allocated for projects like this.”

The Friends of the Highline are already making plans. A study complete with maps, diagrams, models and artists conceptions are on display at the Municipal Art Society. That exhibition runs through March 5.

Now they've also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to have a design competition.

According to Hammond, “We're excited about this design competition — not to design a final plan of what it has to be, but really as an idea generator.”

Because they just want you to think about the possibilities.

“The public support we've had is tremendous, and we want to keep building on that because we think the public and community and the city and elected officials should ultimately decide what happens to the structure,” says Hammond.

You can get more information at the group's website, www.thehighline.org.

So at this point it appears there could be three possible outcomes for the Highline. It could be demolished, it could someday become beautiful parkland, or it could remain the way it is for many years to come.

- Paul Messina
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