Monday, October 1, 2012

Two Men Who Dreamed Big And Had Gutzpah

The capacity to turn big dreams into magnificent realities is America’s hallmark.  Earlier this year that was perfectly illustrated by the completion of a remarkable New York City project. It revived a piece of New York’s history, preserved it for posterity, and created a unique park for Manhattans, raised thirty feet above street level.

In 1847 The City of New York authorized the installation of railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side.  Hailed as a brilliant idea, it also caused so many accidents between traffic and freight trains that 10th Avenue soon became known as Death Avenue. A posse of horsemen, the West Side Cowboys, had to ride ahead of trains waving red flags, to warn traffic.

The problem was addressed in 1929 with the West Side Improvement Project, which included a Railway Line thirty feet above street level.  It travelled through the center of factories and warehouses, so goods trains could roll right inside buildings without interrupting traffic.  The line worked wonderfully until interstate trucking made rail transport redundant. The last train, of three cars carrying frozen turkeys, ran in 1980.

The line was abandoned until the late 1990’s when two young men from Manhattan, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, founded Friends of the High Line to stop it being demolished. They had no experience in urban planning or dealing with the City, but they saw how gorgeous the line would be as a public open space.  

They worked hard on their dream and when they garnered City support and funding to create a planning framework over the next three years, the project had wings. By 2003 it had become an project backed by New York City and State. The design team included architecture and landscape architecture firms, and experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance and public art.  

Construction started in April 2006, and by June 2012 it was complete.  New York City now has a unique skyline park of 2.3 km of self-seeded wild sections alternated with lush lawns, formal landscaping, benches and boardwalks. Thirty feet above downtown Manhattan’s chaos. And all because two young men had a dream and the determination to see it fulfilled.

Watch this video to see my dream