Thursday, October 27, 2011


New Yorkers are a curious, fickle, unpredictable lot. One never quite knows where they might stand on any particular issue, in part because the element of surprise constitutes the supreme fiber of their being.What those outside the city think fabulous, New Yorkers declare a flop; what New Yorkers anoint fabulous others scratch their heads in bewilderment.

To think that New Yorkers might get excited about a refurbished elevated rail line might strike some as odd. To hear New Yorkers explain how delightful the view is "from up there" (a mere 30 feet above ground) is a peculiar iteration in a city known for its skyscrapers, both present and sadly past.

And yet to be present amidst the child-like enthusiasm amongst the throngs of patrons of the latest garden project in Manhattan--The High Line--is an other worldly, almost mystical experience.

Technically, The High Line is the latest addition to New York City parklands, yet I frame it as a garden: an intimate if elongated space, removed from a world yet constitutive of it. It is an effectuated imagination, an engineered design, a liberated vision--liberated precisely because it has been realized. The planting list is long; the design ingenious. At times one is funneled along narrow paths through groves of trees (the woodland flyover around W. 25th is a personal favorite). In other places, one enjoys open vistas afforded by lounge-worthy lawns or by prairie grasslands populated by just the right amount of blossom amidst undulating masses of sedges and panicums.

Last week, the Friends of the High Line received a $20 million gift to complete this botanical wonder from 30th Street (its current endpoint, or beginning, depending on your perspective) to 34th Street. The New York Times reported that "'a large number of staff burst into tears'" upon learning of the generous gift.

Yes: New Yorkers, saddled with the reputation of being hardened souls, burst into tears. Not over a tragedy, over which we expect tears, but over the salvation of a deteriorating rail line, an urban blight, the very affront to sanitized urban and cosmopolitan sensibilities. Rudolph Giuliani couldn't wait to tear it down. Fortunately, neighborhood preservationists saw beyond that once ugly deadweight, looked far into the future, and offered it an extension--one curiously rooted in the vegetative past that was once the wilds of Manhattan.

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