It’s hard enough to find a room of one’s own in New York (as my battles with Craigslist will attest), but the holy grail of real estate here, a privilege rarer than hens’ teeth, is a backyard. One potential house-sit in East Village boasted such a rarity, but having to share a bed with two dogs and a cat for a month, and pay $1000 for the privilege, was a trade-off I wasn’t prepared to make.
So the flip side of the lack of private gardens, is the abundance of public green spaces. From the massive oasis of Central Park, to tiny pockets hidden on side streets and reclaimed rooftops. Community gardens and churchyards, playgrounds seething with kids and dog parks where the air is rent with shrill barks and steamy with the aroma of poo… Wherever there is space, there’s an explosion of greenery.
Case in point – the High Line. The west side of Manhattan was historically a big industrial area, and when trains at street level proved dangerous (10th Ave became known as “Death Avenue”), an elevated train line was erected in the 1930s. Two decades later, the rise of interstate trucking left the line underused, and after a final train pulled “three cartloads of frozen turkeys” in 1980 (seriously, this historical timeline is kinda hilarious) the tracks were demolished. The area was reclaimed as public space and planning for a park began.
The first section of park was opened in mid 2009, with a further section due for completion next year. From Gansvoort Street up to 20th the Highline unfurls above the Meatpacking District and Chelsea Piers. The design is quite witty, incorporating elements of its history – flowers sprout around old tracks, wooden recliner chairs can be rolled along the tracks.
As well as gardens there are bits of artwork scattered throughout, sculptures and performance installations like “A Bell For Every Minute”. Artist Steven Vitiello recorded different bells around New York, and the sound installation is synced to a clock decoding whether the bell you just heard denotes that class finished, you’re next to be served at the deli or someone just got married.
Back on the cobblestoned ground level there’s some fantastic street art throughout the Meatpacking district, which is a curious mix of high end restaurants, designer boutiques, and the eponymous wholesale butchers.