Although I l have lived in a major metropolitan city for close to a decade, I still consider myself a country girl at heart, and my favorite places in cities tend to be areas where the natural intertwines with urbanization. Not long ago I spent a week visiting my recently transplanted friends in New York City, and got to spend a day walking the High Line, a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s Lower West Side, the perfect landmark for me to indulge both my city and nature inclinations.

I met my friend, Yelena, in her office in the Chelsea district for lunch and asked for advice on where to go during the rest of my afternoon. I wanted somewhere free, low hassle, and interesting to get lost around whilst snapping pictures of intriguing things. She thought for a second, then her eyes lit up, she smiled and said: “You need to walk the High Line!” The High Line extends from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues, just blocks away from her office. So off to the High Line I went.

I walked the whole thing end to end, 1.45 miles (or 2.3 km for you Europeans), weaving around tourists, and pausing to appreciate different views, plants, and art installations along the way. It was pleasant spring day, the sun was shining, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to spend it. I met sorority girls from Texas, a couple from Belgium, a little girl on a pink scooter, and a Buddhist monk. I sat and watched an old lady feed pigeons, further down I watched different birds eat from a beautiful sculpture filled with feeder boxes, and I got a history lesson from a talking water fountain. Where else could all of these things occur but NYC? I found out that Paris successfully converted a similar rail into an elevated park called the Promenade Plantée and similar projects are beginning St. Louis, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Chicago, and Rotterdam.

A Quick History: In the early 1900’s 10th Avenue was known as Death Avenue because there were so many fatal accidents between freight trains and street traffic. In 1929 the High Line was approved by the city as a way to simultaneously make the streets safer and eliminate unnecessary traffic. In 1934 it opened, and was a success for decades until rail traffic drastically decreased in the 1950’s. In 1980 service on the High Line stopped completely, and during the 1980’s and 1990’s the High Line fell into disrepair and many, including the current mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, wanted the whole thing demolished. In 1999 an advocacy group was formed for the High Line’s preservation and public use. In the early 2000’s plans were formed, a design competition was held, and in 2008 construction began to turn it into a public park. On June 9, 2009 the first section opened to the public.

In our world today where for the first time ever more people reside in metropolitan areas versus rural areas, I feel it is more important than ever before to promote and preserve places where plants and trees can grow. Besides the ecological benefits, having natural areas in urban areas is essential for the people who live in them. The High Line is a shining example of history and nature preserved in the midst of urbanization.

More information about the High Line on the official website.