Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Innovative Landscape Architecture in New York City: High Line Park

The High Line before
it Became a Park
When I think of New York City, I seldom think of innovative Landscape Architecture. Of course there's Central Park designed by the father of American Landscape Architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted; but that was over 100 years ago. For the most part, NYC appears to lack creative landscape design. At least, that's what I thought.

High Line Park Today
As an Undergraduate studying Landscape Architecture at Berkeley, I recall my professors discussing European, Asian, and even modern Californian landscape design. There was even some mention of creative landscape designs in New Orleans, Washington D.C., Savannah, and Seattle. But for the most part, discussions concerning NYC were limited to Central Park. However, NYC has had a renaissance in landscape design in the last few years. There's new sculpture in a number of city parks, Battery Park has been re-designed, and there are even newly created bicycle lanes and pedestrian zones that were once traffic lanes on major avenues.

Evocative Paving at High Line Park
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit High Line Park on my current visit to NYC. High Line Park is built on a former elevated freight railroad line known as the “High Line,” which runs along Manhattan’s lower west side. It has been re-designed and planted as an urban aerial green way.

By the 1980s, the High Line had been abandoned and parts of its track demolished. What remained were tracks taken over by native grasses, shrubs, and trees. In effect, nature was reclaiming the urban environment.

Sculpture at
Madison Square Park
Central Park
Central Park

Low Tech Cooling
at High Line Park

From High Line 
Just Me
Park you can see the Statute of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the NYC skyline. Although its design is not limited to American native plants, High Line Park is planted with wildflowers, clump grasses, smoke-bushes, birches, and a lawn. The design retains some of the High Line's original tracks, railway overpasses and Art-Deco railings. The Landscape Architect was particularly creative by designing a paving pattern that is evocative of rail ties. There's even a modern “birdhouse” sculpture, and a water element that uses low tech evaporative cooling to moderate the temperature on hot days. 

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