Posted by: VPSN | August 3, 2011

Reinventing Abandoned Spaces: The High Line in Manhattan

The High Line, 2011. Source:

Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting New York City for the first time.  And of course, I went with a mission:  to eat my way through the city’s neighbourhoods and to experience the city as a public space.  Indeed, I enjoyed many public spaces including Prospect Park, Battery Park, the Christopher Street Pier and the Brooklyn Bridge, to name a few; but the hands down highlight of my expedition was the High Line (that, and the veggie burrito from Endless Summer).

Originally built in 1930 to elevate and separate freight traffic from street-level traffic, the 13 mile long Line eventually fell into disuse in 1980 after a drop in rail traffic.  After years of lobbying from developers seeking to demolish the High Line and from those who argued to re-establish rail service, in 1999 the Friends of the High Line formed in order to advocate for preserving the High Line and for its reuse as a public space.  Several years of advocacy, testimony and design competitions followed, and by November 2005 the City of New York had become the official owners of the Line.

The City planned for 3 sections along the High Line, with the first two opening June 9th, 2009 and June 8th, 2011 respectively, and with the third scheduled to open in the next couple of years.  Once complete, the elevated park will span a distance of 1.5 miles, running through the former industrial and transportation areas of Manhattan including the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen — neighbourhoods which have experienced a surge of rejuvenation of other uses with factories and warehouses being converted to galleries, studios, restaurants, museums and residences.

The High Line in Operation. Source: Friends of the High Line

The High Line itself is a space that has been magnificently transformed into a welcoming, relaxing and beautiful natural environment; all juxtaposed against the busy city streets.  Whether spending time strolling, socializing, eating lunch or reading a book, one can’t help but feel like they’re part of something special, like they’re in on a really cool secret.  The fact that it is elevated allows for users to experience the neighbourhoods in a completely new and interesting way.  The park feels removed from the big city and yet immersed in the neighbourhood in the sense that users can still feel involved with the city’s hustle and bustle, the thing that they have escaped from.  All-in-all, the High Line is a shining example of how abandoned spaces can be transformed into a public space that is well-designed and therefore well-used.

What can Vancouver learn from the High Line experience?  Vancouver doesn’t have the rail history like that of Manhattan, and therefore doesn’t have many options for converting existing elevated spaces.  But, some people are advocating for the redevelopment of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts into a High Line-style public space connecting Downtown and Strathcona.  Others however, are more keen to tear them down to make room for office and residential development.

What do you think?  Can Vancouver pull off a High Line-style promenade?



  1. Maybe the High Line is this decade’s waterfront redevelopment. It worked somewhere- we better do it too!

  2. The High Line is such an unbelievable experience and success in attracting visitors and redevelopment that cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Jersey City and St. Louis are trying to create a similar amenity in their respective cities. It may not be the solution for all places but Vancouver should look at the feasibility and potential starting point for redevelopment around (under/over) the viaducts.

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