Meatpacking District, NYCPhoto 1 of 3 | People on tall buildings.
The High Line is a new park on an abandoned elevated rail track whose first stretch, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, has been opened at the beginning of June (photos to follow soon). For decades, the rail viaduct lay unused and derelict, with the occasional photographers and other curious people climbing it for an adventurous stroll along a linear jungle surrounded by a jagged urban landscape. The idea to turn the viaduct into a park started to grow from just a few people to a community of interest, and was finally presented to the city. For New York, the idea came at the right time, since it is currently trying to breathe new life into the long-neglected west side of Manhattan, a landscape of parking lots, rail yards and an exhibition center that never attracted any noteworthy businesses in its trails. While the meatpacking district, once an agglomeration of butcheries and a redlight district, managed to turn into a super-hip area with designer shops and model clientele, the rest of the west side still lay in hibernation. Part of this is caused by the lack of transportation. While the Meatpacking district can be reached with a short walk from the station at 14th Street, there are no subway lines on the far west side of Manhattan, the system was never extended past Times Square and 8th Avenue. As part of several big infrastructure projects, the number 7 subway line is currently being extended westward from Times Square to tap the west side.
In this climate, the High Line park will certainly act as a catalyst, drawing people to the west side and, in the long run, attract new businesses and residents. The gentrification of the area is already underway, and will gain additional speed with the 7-line extension being finished.
The park itself can be described as one of Manhattan's most interesing parks. This comes in part from the elevation: walking on the level of the second or third floor is certainly a new experience. Since there are no high-rises in the area, you can see across the rooftops towards Midtown, Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, which makes for spectacular views. The plantation of the park was chosen to mimic the wild plants that grew here during the High Line's hiatus. The pathways are made from concrete and sometimes wooden strips that seamlessly fade into the planted areas. Benches spring up in one integrated, curvy motion from the ground. Other benches are placed on wheels on rail tracks (which the High Line incorporeates as a reminder of its past) and can be moved along the tracks. At one place, there will be a theatre-like slope of benches towards a glass window opening to the street, with the sitting space being directly above the street, so you can sit and watch the spectacle of traffic below.
The building on the photo is the new hotel "The Standard" which opened in March 2009. It is suspended on concrete pillars above the High-Line and it's currently the only new building in the area to be situated directly above the new park. Being located in the Meatpacking District, it is a hip location for an upscale design-conscious clientele. The building was praised by New York Times' architecture critic Nicolai Ourousoff, but its building quality seemed sub-standard to me. The exposed concrete parts of the building are cracked and very porous and some materials look cheap. From the photos that I've seen though, the interior is exquisitly styled and probably makes up for the shabby exterior. Since the area is somewhat run-down anyway, and with build quality in New York being generally pretty low, the building might fit into the cityscape in the end. A few blocks north though and visible from the High Line, Gehry's IAC headquarters and Jean Nouvel's nearly-fininshed apartment building add shiny modern contrasts to the area. Other new glass buildings are under construction as well, giving the area a strange hybrid feel between old and new. It'll have to be seen how the gentrification transforms the area in the end.