Welcome to the blog for Thomas Parry Photography. My purpose is to inform the public about photographic projects I have recently completed as well as those in progress and planned for the future. I will periodically post articles about different aspects of photographing nature, people and places. As I work with new hardware and software tools, I will pass along lessons learned that may aid other photographers. I will periodically write reviews about photographic equipment with which I have experience and books I read that may be helpful to others. I hope you enjoy reading my blog and return frequently. I invite your thoughts, good ideas, opinions and feedback.
| 09 December, 2013 06:41
In April 2011, National Geographic Magazine published an article titled Miracle Above Manhattan describing a unique urban revitalization project underway in Manhattan’s Lower West Side. The project, known as the High Line, really captivated my attention. “What was so unique about the High Line and why did I find myself so interested in it?” I asked myself. When I think of urban revitalization, what comes to my mind are efforts such as cleaning up dilapidated inner city areas and beautification through renovation of buildings and structures or the addition of parks. It is a process of gentrification of old neighborhoods that were once considered undesirable places to live into places with eateries and galleries that add a special quality of life and attract new residents. Such efforts are underway in more or less degrees in many large American cities and they are bringing with them an enhanced quality of life to inner city dwellers. The High Line project embodies all of these things and more. What caught my attention and impressed me the most about the High Line was how a community living for decades under a harsh, dingy, heavy, black steel structure that supported an elevated rail line that once brought freight trains directly into factories and warehouses was able to formulate a vision, face overwhelming challenges from NYC public officials and muster the resources to convert the railway structure falling fast into decay into a beautiful strip park greenway that has become a veritable urban oasis. And, they did so at less cost than would have been incurred had the city moved forward with its original plans to demolish the structure. Today, the High Line extends a mile and a quarter along Manhattan’s Lower West Side between Gansevoort Street and 30th Street and allows unobstructed pedestrian movement above the crowded city streets along a converted railway track bed lined with beautiful native trees, shrubs and flowers as well as benches to sit down and relax. After reading the National Geographic Article, I knew that this was a place I wanted to one day see and experience for myself.
The original High Line was built by the New York Central Railroad between 1929 and 1934 to lift dangerous freight trains above Manhattan’s busy streets. Originally extending down to the St. John’s Park Terminal at Clarkson Street, the High Line was part of a much larger rail infrastructure project known as the West Side Improvement, which eliminated street-level train crossings from Spuyten Duyvil to Lower Manhattan. The High Line’s trains carried meat, produce, and dairy products into warehouses and factories at the third-floor level. It was known as the “Life Line of New York.”
For many years, the High Line was a vital part of the busy manufacturing landscape of the industrial West Side. However, as trucking began to replace rail as the primary means of moving freight in New York City, train traffic declined on the High Line, and the southernmost section was torn down. By 1980, the trains had stopped running completely. What remained of the High Line, from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, was slowly taken over by a self-sown landscape, showing the power of nature to conquer even monumental, man-made structures.
In 1999, with the High Line threatened to be demolished, neighborhood residents formed the non-profit organization known as Friends of the High Line to advocate for the preservation and reuse of the structure. In 2002, under the direction of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council, the City of New York boldly committed to transform the High Line into a one-of-a kind park. Innovative design was central to the vision. The goal was to create a public landscape as unusual and unexpected as the High Line itself. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the Park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget.
My desire to see and experience the High Line came last month (October of 2012) when I traveled to New York City for a family reunion and to photograph the inner city of Manhattan. I made it a point to spend a good portion of a day walking the full length of the High Line. Using New York City’s public transit system, I made my way to the southern terminus of the High Line at Washington and Gansevoort Streets. This area, often referred to as the “Meat Packing District,” is characterized by buildings that have been around since the early twentieth century and, while there is much activity in the area, there are signs of decay in the infrastructure.
Seeing the heavy, black structure supporting the elevated rail line from a distance gives, at first glance, the appearance more of an abandoned relic than an urban oasis. But as one gets closer, the presence of trees and shrubs growing on top of the platform becomes more apparent and lures one to ascend the steps to see what is really there. As I ascended the steps to the top of the platform, I felt the commotion and din of the big city give way to the peace and serenity of a magnificent botanical garden. I felt I had truly entered an urban oasis.
Walking on the High Line is unlike any other experience I have had in New York. I felt like I was floating along 30 feet above the city. There is a sense of being connected to life in the city streets and yet far away from it—as if in another world. There were no traffic signals, crowded sidewalks or vehicular congestion to worry about. Being drawn as I am into natural surroundings, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowering plants. It was a joy to sit down for a spell in the warm sun on a bench surrounded by well-manicured gardens and enjoy Hudson River views. As I walked the High Line and passed between very old buildings and magnificent new ones, the changing cityscape never ceased to amaze me. Time seemed to stand still and sense of distance faded. I must have walked the equivalent of some twenty city blocks but it didn’t seem like it was more than two. And it seemed to take no time at all!
I would offer this final thought. The High Line transformation embodies the fulfillment of a vision of ordinary citizens like you and me and their dedication to creating an innovative urban revitalization project that has raised the standard of living and quality of life in an area that would have fallen into total urban decay. Tens of thousands of West Side residents have been benefitted by new jobs, new and beautiful apartment buildings and rising property values the High Line renovation has brought. If you have never visited the High Line, I encourage you to do so on your next trip to New York City. It is well worth the time and a wonderful respite from the usual popular NYC attractions.
Reference links for additional information.
The High Line official website:
National Geographic article Miracle Above Manhattan:
The High Line glides across the bustling avenues of Chelsea, past the wavy modernism of Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel straight ahead in this view. Gehry's building is the shorter one; Nouvel's is the taller one behind it.