Anne LatreilleEscape summer heat in New York’s parks

July in New York City. Extreme heat and humidity, heavy traffic, surging crowds. What to do? Where to go? Art galleries seemed a good choice, being air-conditioned. But I could only take so many! So I headed out, and around. First, to Central Park. Spacious, green and shady. And hot, hot, hot.

NYC Central Park - spacious and shady but still hot, hot hot.

NYC Central Park – spacious and shady but still hot, hot hot.

BBG entrance

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Entrance

Then to Brooklyn Botanic Garden with its fascinating new grass-roofed information centre. There was welcome sunlight and shadow, especially beneath the historic cherry trees and in the long-established garden of native plants. But it was hot!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn's long-established native plants section

Brooklyn’s long-established native plants section

Then, the Cloisters Museum at the northernmost point of Manhattan. After a 45-minute train trip (costing just $2.50!) it was wonderful to stroll in through the greenery and lush planting of expansive Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the sweep of the Hudson River. Yet even inside the fine 1930s building that incorporates amazing huge pieces of medieval European architecture (in particular), sculpture and art, it was still pretty hot.

Herb garden in The Cloisters courtyard

Herb garden in The Cloisters courtyard

So as a last resort I settled for New York’s ‘park in the sky’, the High Line. People told me that this walkway, newly created on an elevated old rail freight track by the waterfront on Manhattan’s West Side, was very special.

Start of the High Line

Start of the High Line

I was all at sea in the cluttered streets, and had to ask a passer-by for directions. He smiled and pointed. ‘Up there!’ Now I spotted the rail line, and gingerly navigated a steep flight of steps to the top. The sun glared down but a breeze was blowing, and the views down and out were great. I turned left and start walking – into a garden-cum-pedestrian passage like nothing I had experienced before.

Pedestrians on the narrow walkway

Pedestrians on the narrow walkway

The High Line was built in the early 1930s to help solve major traffic problems on Manhattan’s crowded industrial streets. It took trains to, from and through buildings to deliver goods. After it closed in 1980, wildflowers sprang up all over it. Twenty years later, two concerned local residents began working to ward off its threatened demolition.

Planting behind the metal structure

Planting behind the metal structure

They formed The Friends of the High Line group, which has put years of effort into spreading the word and raising the huge amounts of money required to stabilise and redesign the empty track, and refit it as a public space. The project opened in two stages – 2007 and 2011. The effort continues, with work now under way on a third stage.

The High Line is many things.

Old train lines articulate the planting beds

Old train lines articulate the planting beds

It’s a structure, in metal (rusted old and shiny new), timber, and creatively handled concrete, stone and gravel.

People, walkway, buildings, planting

People, walkway, buildings and planting

It’s a beautifully designed landscape, full of green and healthy plants, many of them native to the area. Piet Oudulf from the Netherlands advised on this.

Different forms of relaxation on the High Line

Different forms of relaxation on the High Line

It’s a place for people, who come in droves – with a growing annual count of some four million – to enjoy its elevated perspective out across New York. About half are locals, the rest visitors and tourists. They stroll, they look at the plants, they admire the views, they lie back on the elegant seats that emerge from the paving as part of the architecture of the place. They arrive early to talk to the gardeners; they flock in in droves through the whole day; they come hand in hand at night, when romance is in the air and lighting is concealed within the handrails so that the plants are illuminated and the city sparkles in the dark.

some parts are open and elevated

Some parts are open and elevated

and some shaded

… and some shaded

Art work on a brick building

Art work on a brick building

The walkway is 2.2 kilometres long, but once you are cruising along it the distance is immaterial. As is the time it takes, because the environs are so alluring! You move along varied, beautifully designed paving through open spaces, then under shady trees. You look closely at narrow swathes of planting (unobtrusively roped off) that is alternatively colourful and soft and green – and that is allowed to set its seed, in wildflower tradition. You happen across pieces of in-your-face contemporary sculpture, then admire an alluring Art Deco railing. You see cheeky signs that put a smile on your face. On either side, beyond the plants, you see buildings – close-set against the rails or towering further away – that are both new and old, unimaginative and innovative.

Elegant seats

Elegant seats

Humour

NYC Humour

It’s all part of the rich tapestry of the High Line. And the more you look, the more you notice, and the more you feel about the place. Just as the old rail tracks and the ‘fingers’ of concrete paving split off from each other and vanish into the planting, so your appreciation grows of how this stunning urban creation can set a new direction for city gardens of the future.

Yes, it was another very hot day. But on the High Line, I didn’t notice it.

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Anne Latreille

About Anne Latreille

Writer, editor and journalist. Author of 'Garden Voices' (about Australian garden designers past and present, September 2013), 'Garden of a Lifetime' (Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm), 'Kindred Spirits' and 'The Natural Garden'. Melbourne, Victoria.

8 thoughts on “Escape summer heat in New York’s parks

  1. Jeff Howes on said:

    Anne,
    Great photos.
    Thanks for sharing your NY experience with us.
    I missed the High Line on my last trip to NY and after seeing your photos I am very disappointed that I did.
    Jeff

    • Anne Latreille on said:

      Thanks! My husband took them, being an architect he’s better at photography than I am. Put the High Line on your list for the next visit – but maybe try for some cooler weather?

  2. stuart read on said:

    Same from me – bravo Anne. Looking fwd. to taking those tips on visit no. 1 to the Big Apple. Olmsted gets better & better, heh?

    • anne latreille on said:

      you are certainly right about Olmsted, Stuart. Sounds like you are off to NYC soon?

  3. Amanda Commins on said:

    Hi Anne. The High Line looks brilliant. What an inspired outcome – thanks for the story. Maybe there was hope for the Sydney monorail afterall – though it might have been a bit narrow!

    • Anne Latreille on said:

      I agree Amanda, there might have been some safety issues with the Sydney monorail as a walkway(!) The NYC one is really quite generous, maybe cos it was built to carry large-scale freight rather than small people?

  4. Did I hear Robert Doyle on 774 ABC Radio talking about doing something like this with the old Sandridge Bridge? Hope so!

    • Anne Latreille on said:

      would be great. only trouble is it’s a whole heap shorter….!

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