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High Line: The Inside Story

The founders of NYC's park in the sky recount their ten-year journey with intimate detail

by Karen Day in Culture on 17 October 2011

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The road to creating one of New York's most beloved parks was not unlike the unruly terrain that High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky," chronicles the behind-the-scenes of the epic ten-year restoration project.

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The densely-detailed—though "not comprehensive"—account begins with an interview from David and Hammond, who remember their initial encounter with each other at a community board meeting and, subsequently, the seemingly-infinite number of challenges they came up against in trying to save the 70-year-old rail system. A journalist described the two as "a pair of nobodies," and, indeed, they had no prior experience in parks and recreation. Hammond admits, "I didn't understand the complexity of what we were getting into...we would need to become versed in urban planning, architecture, and City politics, raise millions of dollars, and give years of our lives to the High Line."

The raised tracks once carried a cargo train known as the Lifeline of New York, which delivered food to the refrigerated warehouses of the West Side until its last run in 1980. In the years that followed, many ideas were put forth on how to use the abandoned space, with several attempts made to offset the demolition proposed by many politicians. David and Hammond formed Friends of the High Line in 1999, but, for a decade, struggled against naysaying opposition groups like High Line Reality, numerous development problems and the economic crash in 2008. In overcoming it all, David and Hammond have created a park that stands for so much more than a respite from the urban jungle.

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Today, the High Line is home to more than 200 species of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees, hosts more than 300 public programs each year, from stargazing sessions to yoga classes, provides a setting for site-specific art installations and receives at times 100,000 visitors in a single weekend.

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With the forthcoming relocation of the Whitney Museum to the park's southern terminus and the adjacent Hudson Yards development on the horizon, the High Line spans an important area of NYC's rapidly evolving urban environment. "High Line" is a thorough and enlightening read for any city resident, park enthusiast or person seeking a little inspiration. "I hope the High Line will encourage people to pursue all sorts of crazy projects, even if they seem, as the High Line once did, the most unlikely of dreams," says Hammond in the book.

Copies of the 256-page "High Line" book sell from Amazon and Macmillan.

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