Two imaginative projects in New York show how wasted industrial sites can be transformed into landscaped public areas for the community to enjoy.
In Manhatten, the third phase of the High Line has now opened to the public. The half-mile section – stretching from 30th Street around the Hudson Rail Yard to 34th Street – completes this imaginative urban park project which has transformed an abandoned and derelict stretch of elevated freight rail track into a linear park, providing a green lung through Manhatten. The entire High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th avenues, has taken 15 years and, according to the Courier-Post, has cost $223 million in public and private money.
The last $75 million phase is designed as a wild and natural landscape that is a reminder of the weeds and natural vegetation of the old railway tracks. Piet Oudolf, the Dutch garden designer who worked with James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio and Renfro described is as an “introduction to the wild” that responds directly to the public’s desire to “walk on the original tracks”.
Not only has the project created a new green park, attracting nearly 5 million visitors a year, it has acted as a catalyst for the transformation of Manhattan’s West Side — particularly Chelsea – which now a trendy area with new housing, galleries, restaurants and boutiques This not been without controversy. What is surprising is that people have been surprised at the rise in property prices and the “gentrification” which has occurred from such an investment; it is an inevitable outcome.
Of course, you can’t have a High Line without a Low Line and there is such a project, also in New York. The Low Line (or Lowline) is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal to create a “stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments.”
The Trolley Terminal, just below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was opened in 1908 and was operational for only forty years, since when it has been empty, forgotten and decaying and today it still retains much of its original character with vaulted ceilings, rusting rail tracks and cobblestones. This hidden gem has provided inspiration to James Ramsey of Raad Studio to propose its use as an underground park lit by sunlight directed through a glass shield above a parabolic collector to reflective dishes which then illuminate the underground space. Providing a sustainable solution, though supplementary lighting would be needed during dark periods, this technology will enable photosynthesis for the plants and trees to grow. In 2012, a full scale prototype of the technology was built in an abandoned warehouse in the Lower East Side and a feasibility study commissioned from Arups and HR&A Advisors, the consultant behind the High Line, which confirmed both the technology and the economic benefits of this new landscaped public space supporting cultural events, youth activities and retail.
The Low Line aims to completed negotiations with transport and city agencies and have the construction completed for opening in 2018. An interesting counterbalance to the High Line, these are two projects that show what can be done with imagination and flair to create new public places from the unused remnants of our industrial past.