It was built more than 70 years ago as an above-ground rail link between factories and warehouses. The High Line wound its way through 22 blocks in Manhattan.
When the trains stopped running in the early 1980's, the line became little more than an eyesore. But not for much longer; thanks to two longtime west siders, it will live again as a unique city park space.
“It's a mile and half of New York, and where else do you have a mile and half and seven acres of open space running through three of the most interesting neighborhoods, I think — the Meatpacking District, far west Chelsea, and the bottom part of Hell's Kitchen," says Robert Hammond.
Joshua David and Robert Hammond started Friends of the High Line five years ago in hopes of preserving the structure and creating an elevated public space.
“When we started, the structure was really on the verge of demolition, and there was no one speaking up for the value that it held for New York City,” says David.
At first it was just the two of them. Now they have a staff of seven with their own office, and the support of city and state officials.
At a recent community meeting, David and Hammond introduced the design team to the neighborhood. "What Will Grow Here" is the name of their project. It emphasizes preserving parts of the High Line, while providing space to sit and read a book or take a stroll.
“I think it's probably one of the most exciting urban planning projects in New York City in decades," says Chris Collins, a member of the Board of Directors for Friends of the High Line.
Other members of the organization say it's successful because David and Hammond just won't quit.
“I love that they will not take no for an answer on anything, and I love that they always ask, ÎWhy not?’" says Development Director Julia Page.
Friends of the High Line is a true New York success story. Just this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller announced a capital funding plan to design and create the public space.
For now, though, the High Line is still private property and not open to the public - at least not until the park is built.
“We couldn't be happier with the progress we have made over the course of the last five years,” says David. “I think it’s really been an extraordinary journey."
A journey that sets an example that, with a little help from you friends, you can turn an idea into reality.
“I think it's a monument to people that you can actually make dreams happen in New York, that a group of people against a lot of odds can actually get things done,” says Hammond.
David and Hammond hope to see the groundbreaking about this time next year.
So, for thinking big and overcoming the odds, the Friends of the High Line are our New Yorkers of the Week.
For more information, you can call 212-206-9922, or go online to www.thehighline.org
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