Innovative Sustainable Re-Development – High Line

placeThis case study is about the High Line, a unique, elevated linear park that was created on top of and abandoned rail line on Manhattan, in New York. It has been on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad section called the West Side Line.

In the early days of public transport, elevated railways were common in central urban areas where there would otherwise be a large number of level crossings.

The earliest elevated railway was the London and Greenwich Railway on a brick viaduct of 878 arches, built between 1836 and 1838. The first 4.0 km of the London and Blackwall Railway (1840) was also on a viaduct. From the late 1860s elevated railways became popular in US cities.

The railway line in Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan has been long abandoned, ever since the last train that carried three carloads of frozen turkeys ran through it in 1980. In the meantime, in the 25 years prior to the redevelopment, the landscape on and around the High Line grew freely, which later on inspired the current design.


In 1999, two of the areas residents, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, founded a community group called Friends of the High Line whose aim was to rescue it from being demolished by creating a public park. A special zoning area was set up by the City in 2005, which fostered the development.

imageThe elevated structure of the rail line was sound, but it was in complete disrepair and there had been many US native shrub species growing on the line itself. A competition was held in 2004 and the design team was selected, which consisted of James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and planting designer Piet Oudolf in collaboration.

The design was inspired by the found landscape, and today over 350 species of plants grow on the High Line. The park is an integrated system of seating areas, planted areas, concrete walkways and special features blended in between. This design has become synonymous with the High Line itself.

The construction was divided into three parts. The construction of the first section began in 2006, and the first section was opened in 2009. The second section was opened in 2011, and the third one in 2014. Now there is only a smart part of the High Line left to be redeveloped, called the Spur of the High Line. High Line at Rail Yard is expected to be completed 10-15 years from now.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 06.05.37

The rezoned area provided opportunities for new commercial and residential development, affordable housing along the High Line was created and the neighbourhood’s gallery district was enhanced. A new Whitney Museum of American Art which is located at the far southern end of the High Line Park was opened to the public in May 2015.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 06.06.23

It was important to detect the influence of the project in all of the four sections, to put emphasis not only on the hard factors, but also on the soft factors of the development, mainly the effect it will have on the community.

In the graphic displayed below, we have mapped the vision of the project, through four main factors that we identified were relevant in all of the projects we analysed.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 06.07.03

Friends of the High Line continue to maintain the park, they oversee operations, maintenance and programming. Besides from that, they also raise funds to complete the construction and stimulate future operations. In total, Friends of the High Line raise 98% of the High Lines annual cost budget.

The financing for the project was (and is) a combination of public and private investment, where the Friends of the High Line have played a mayor role in raising private funds. The structure of the funding is displayed in the graphic below.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 06.15.26

The construction of the first two sections of the High Line created 344 new construction jobs, and many more have been created during the construction of the third section, and will be created by the ripple effect from High Line in the surrounding neighbourhood.

A special focus has been given to sustainable practices, e.g. planting of US native plants, innovative system of watering them and similar.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 06.16.09

In the end, the High Ling Park has become a unique public space, a combination of restored and original rails with paved pathways, areas for relaxation and natural foliage, providing amazing views to Chelsea in Manhattan. It has become a leading model for community driven adaptive reuse.

Next week, we will present two case studies of High Speed Rail projects from Sweden, Europabanan and Götalandsbanan.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

seventeen + two =