Standing two stories above the heads of unsuspecting New Yorkers is a majestic, unexplored landscape known as the High Line. From below, its bits of steel and concrete snake between lots, hide behind buildings, and arch across streets, offering mere glimpses, mere suggestions of what awaits above. Only when one is up there, up on the High Line, is its true character unveiled.
The High Line is an out-of-use elevated rail viaduct that runs for 1.45 miles along Manhattan's West Side. Built in the 1930s as an elevated passageway for freight trains, it remains standing, a living vestige of the city's transportation and manufacturing history. Beginning at 34th Street, it stretches along the edge of the Hudson River, through West Chelsea's tree-lined blocks and art galleries, into the heart of the Meat Packing District, terminating on Gansevoort Street. The structure -- owned by CSX Transportation -- has been out of use since 1980. On its neglected surface, a whole new world has emerged: wildflowers sprout up colorfully between rails, fruit trees have taken root, and birds nest freely.
It is truly a magic landscape, and one that has captured the imagination of Joel Sternfeld, a photographer who has been shooting atop the structure for over two years. "A true working landscape and an artifact," the High Line intrigues Joel for its historical value as ruin, as well as its visceral value as secret space. Comparing a walk along the rails to a rural experience, he notes "it is so tranquil and so peaceful and so calming that it just became my sanctuary up here." Since the High Line is closed to the public, very few people have experienced its wonder. Joel's photographs capture the structure's varied seasons and moods for the curious that linger below.
Joel calls the structure "a ruin", and like many ruins, the High Line is currently under threat of demolition. The Chelsea Property Owners, a group of several businesses who own real estate beneath the structure, see the High Line as unsightly and dangerous, and believe that the value of their holdings will rise if it is demolished. The Friends of the High Line is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the High Line. They believe this neglected landmark offers New Yorkers the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind grand, public promenade.
The Bloomberg administration is currently conducting a feasibility study to determine whether to support the preservation of the High Line for public reuse through the federal "Rails-to-Trails" program or to pursue demolition. As of today, its fate is undetermined.
For more on the High Line visit http://www.thehighline.org