Twice in October, I visited New York City. It was the first time in 32 years, and I had forgotten the adrenalin rush provoked by The Big Apple. The first occasion was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my “women’s weekend away” group; the second was to cheer on a friend running the New York Marathon. Two short visits; two very different takes on one of the world’s most stimulating cities.
My four days with the “Daughters of Hoyle” (so named because our tradition includes playing cards) became a reconnaissance expedition to reorient myself to the geography of Manhattan. A walk in Central Park and a ferry trip to Staten Island were familiar. We saw a play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a stage production of the novel by Mark Haddon, mind-blowing in its pathos, professionalism and special effects. One of my friends likes to stand outside the stage door to meet the actors, so we all did that and were as starstruck as teeny boppers when Tyler Lea and other cast members emerged to sign autographs. On our visit to the Downtown East Side for brunch, we came upon a delightful Marco Polo Day parade and festival which occurs each year. Its raison d’être is to celebrate the links between Italy and China, totally appropriate considering that this is New York’s Little Italy and Chinatown.
The highlight of this initial visit, however, was walking the new High Line Park, opened in 2009 and now widely hailed as “America’s most original urban park.” On Manhattan’s Lower West Side, the High Line begins near Pier 52 at Gansevoort and West 13th Streets, in the heart of the Meatpacking District. From there, it runs for 20 blocks on the former elevated railway line to the Rail Yards along the Hudson River at West 34th Street. The rail line once supplied the meatpacking district, was abandoned, became overrun with weeds and natural grasses and, before long, a popular “wild place” for runners and walkers. When the city proposed demolishing the rail line, the locals demanded that the naturalized space be preserved. And so it was, with a panache which is breath-taking.
Abutting the High Line are old stone factories and warehouses (their huge water towers aloft) revitalized as art galleries and studios, modern condos clad with contemporary art, the Chelsea Market and, at the lower end since it opened in 2015, the new Whitney Museum of American Art. The High Line itself is a continuous exposition of great design: numerous different benches, chairs and gathering places, constantly changing plantings of herbs, wildflowers, natural “weeds,” vines, bushes and even groves of different types of trees. There are open spaces, quiet intimate corners, and broad vistas over the river. Wheelchair accessible via glass elevators located every few blocks, the High Line is full of people, even early on a Thursday morning. It is obviously much beloved by the locals and must certainly be a four star Michelin attraction for visitors.
The High Line is also a model of modern urban park management. Locals demanded the park in the first place, and members of Friends of the High Line provide 98% of the park’s operating budget today. They support the expert gardeners who tend the plants, and the programming which abounds in the area. As volunteers, they also join in to help prune the plants for new growth each spring. There is much to learn from this absolutely first-class urban experience. Don’t miss it.
I will write about the highlights of my second visit to New York in another post.